May 20, 2022

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Putin holds rally to bolster support as Ukraine war falters

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a rally on Friday to boost public morale, as the invasion of Ukraine he launched last month continued to meet with determined resistance, supported by the United States and Europe.

The event was held at Luzhniki Stadium in the center of Moscow. Attendees wore the Russian colors of red, white and blue. “We don’t abandon our own,” one slogan adorning the stadium said, in a seeming echo of the message that an embittered Putin delivered on Wednesday, when he castigated Russians who either have fled to or are siding with the West in protest of the war in Ukraine.

“For Russia” and “For a World Without Nazism,” read other slogans hanging in the packed stadium on the banks of the Moscow River, as Putin’s unprovoked assault on Russia’s sovereign neighbor enters its fourth week.

“We know what we need to do, how to do it and at what cost. And we will absolutely accomplish all of our plans,” Putin said, according to wire service reports.

He invoked Russia’s proud military history and its defeats of both Hitler and Napoleon. Its military record has been tarnished more recently by corruption, incompetence and abuse, all of which have become evident during the Ukrainian campaign.

“Shoulder to shoulder. They help​,​ support each other. And if needed, the​y take a bullet on the battlefield — as if for their own brother,” Putin told the flag-waving rally attendees.​ “We haven’t seen such unity in a long time.​”

At one point, the video feed of the Moscow rally — which included musical performances and a reading of patriotic poetry — was interrupted, with the live feed replaced by recorded footage. According to a social media post from RIA Novosti, the state-owned wire service, the disruption was caused by a server malfunction.

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The rally was called “Crimean Spring,” in reference to the eighth anniversary of Putin’s invasion of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which was originally part of Ukraine. Whereas that 2014 campaign, which also saw Putin invade two eastern provinces, did not encounter significant resistance or a united international response, the war in Ukraine has gone poorly for Russia, leading some to wonder if Putin badly miscalculated sentiment both at home and abroad.

The Russian leader has claimed that the invasion was necessary because Ukraine’s ruling class is dominated by Nazis — although its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish. He has also said that the invasion is justified by the historical ties between Russia and Ukraine, which has been an independent nation since 1991.

Putin continued to claim that his invasion of Ukraine was necessary to prevent “genocide,” which the U.S. had predicted he would use as a pretext for the assault.

According to the United Nations, more than 700 civilians have been killed since Russia launched the invasion on Feb. 24.