Moscow, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- President Vladimir Putin on Friday led a ceremony for national Russia Day celebrations, one of his first public acts since the country enforced tough restrictions in March to counter the coronavirus pandemic.
“For us, the homeland is everything,” he said.
“The land from Kaliningrad to Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands, from the Arctic seas to Sevastopol and Crimea, endless lands that are home to our millennia-old history.”
To mark Russia Day, which commemorates the founding of the Russian Federation following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Putin hoisted the national flag in Moscow’s Victory Park, which is dedicated to the Red Army’s victory against Nazi Germany.
He also awarded five people with the country’s Hero of Labor medals.
Putin held the ceremony without wearing a face mask or gloves, and welcomed attendees with handshakes and hugs, with the exception of Russian paediatrician and World Health Organization expert Leonid Roshal, with whom he bumped elbows.
The last time the Russian leader was seen in public outside the Kremlin was on 9 May when he laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the capital.
On Friday he said that patriotism had helped Russians overcome adversities, and resist and persevere in the face of difficulties.
He gave a special mention to the efforts of Russian medical staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Many deserve the highest prizes,” he said.
But he also spoke of politics, specifically the upcoming referendum on constitutional changes that would ban the ceding of Russian territories, invest parliament with the power to approve a prime minister and prohibit anyone who has not lived in Russia for 25 years or who has a residency permit in another country, from running for president.
Putin’s critics see the move as a way for him to maintain power in the country, as one amendment would allow him to remain in the Kremlin beyond 2024, when his third and final term is up.
Russians cannot vote on each amendment individually, but must approve or reject the changes as a whole.
“I am convinced that these positions are supported by an absolute majority of Russian citizens,” he said.
The referendum had been due to take place in April but was postponed to 1 July because of the outbreak.
Russia has recorded more than 500,000 coronavirus cases and 6,700 deaths.
The country has celebrated its national day on 12 June since 1993, although it has only been known as Russia Day since 2003.
Messages came in from world figures such as Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, American secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II. EFE-EPA