(Update 1: recasts with Putin remarks, edits lead, headline)
International Desk, Mar 18 (EFE).- President Vladimir Putin on Friday praised the unity of the Russian people in the face of what he calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine, which has led to thousands of military and civilian deaths and has caused more than three million refugees to flee, has been widely condemned by the international community.
Putin, who praised the heroism of Russian soldiers fighting in the war, which he said was being waged to prevent a “genocide” in Ukraine, was addressing a massive patriotic rally at the Luzhniki Olympic Stadium in Moscow, which hosted more than 200,000 people, according to local authorities.
“Saving people from this suffering, from this genocide, is the main and most important reason (…) for the military operation that we launched in the Donbas and in Ukraine,” he proclaimed.
Putin, who quoted the Bible to justify the Ukraine invasion, said the best expression of the unity of the Russian people is how their soldiers are fighting “shoulder to shoulder” in the neighboring country.
“We see how heroically our guys act and fight during this operation. It has been a long time since we enjoyed such unity,” he said.
Ukraine claims that Russia has suffered over 14,200 casualties since the invasion began on February 24.
“For a world without Nazism!”, “For the president!” and “For Russia!” were the slogans displayed onstage at the event which featured concerts by popular singers with close ties to the Kremlin.
Tens of thousands of people who could not access the stadium followed the concerts in the vicinity of the Luzhniki, which seats more than 80,000 spectators.
“Thanks to the guys who with weapons in their hands defend Russian citizens in the Donbas,” said Sergey Sobyanin, mayor of Moscow.
Sobyanin, one of the Kremlin’s closest aides, has rallied support for Putin, who launched the invasion.
“Half the world has united against us, but Russia is a strong country. Strong because of its citizens, because of its patriots,” he said.
Some of the presenters, singers and attendees wore the Z-shaped St. George’s ribbon, which has become a symbol of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Russians usually wear the ribbon on May 9, which marks the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
The event coincided with the eighth anniversary of the annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. EFE