Putin appears at large rally as troops advance attack in Ukraine – Press Enterprise


Vladimir Putin appeared at a large flag-waving rally at a Moscow stadium on Friday, praising his troops fighting in Ukraine, three weeks into the invasion that has resulted in heavier-than-expected Russian losses on the battlefield and increasingly authoritarian rule at home Has .

Meanwhile, in diplomatic talks with Ukraine, the head of the Russian delegation said the sides had narrowed their differences. The Ukrainian side did not immediately comment on the talks.

The Moscow rally came as Russian troops continued to rain deadly fire on Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, and bombed an aircraft repair facility on the outskirts of Lviv, near the Polish border.

“Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other,” the Russian president said of the Kremlin’s forces in a rare public appearance since the war began. “We haven’t had a unit like this for a long time,” he added to the cheers of the crowd.

The show of support amid a wave of anti-war protests in Russia led to allegations in some quarters that the rally – officially marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which was seized by Ukraine – was an artificial display of patriotism.

Several anti-Kremlin Telegram channels reported that students and employees of state institutions in a number of regions were asked by their superiors to take part in rallies and concerts to mark the Crimean anniversary. These reports could not be independently verified.

Moscow police said more than 200,000 people were in and around Luzhniki Stadium. The event featured patriotic songs, including a performance of “Made in the USSR” with the opening lines “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, it’s all my country.”

To present the war as just, Putin paraphrased the Bible and said of Russia’s troops, “There is no greater love than to lay down your soul for your friends.”

On the stage, where a sign read “For a world without Nazism” stood, he denounced his enemies in Ukraine as “neo-Nazis” and continued to insist that his actions were necessary to prevent “genocide” – a claim flatly denied by leaders around the world.

Video feeds of the event sometimes cut out, but showed a loudly cheering crowd breaking into chants of “Russia!”

Putin’s appearance marked a departure from his relative isolation of recent weeks, when he was shown meeting with world leaders and his staff, either at extraordinarily long tables or via video conference.

After the invasion, the Kremlin cracked down on dissent and the flow of information, arresting thousands of anti-war protesters, banning websites like Facebook and Twitter, and handing out harsh jail terms for alleged misreporting of the war, which Moscow calls a “special military operation.”

Rights group OVD-Info, which monitors political arrests, reported that at least seven independent journalists were arrested before or during coverage of the anniversary events in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Putin stood on the stage in a white turtleneck and blue down jacket and spoke for about five minutes. Some people, including the event’s moderators, wore t-shirts or jackets with a “Z” – a symbol seen on Russian tanks and other military vehicles in Ukraine and adopted by supporters of the war.

Putin’s quotes from the Bible and an 18th-century Russian admiral reflect his increasing focus in recent years on history and religion as unifying forces in post-Soviet Russia. His branding of his enemies as Nazis was reminiscent of what many Russians consider to be their country’s finest hour, defending their homeland against Nazi Germany in World War II.

The rally came as Vladimir Medinsky, who led Russian negotiators in several rounds of talks with Ukraine, said the sides were closer to an agreement on Ukraine dropping its bid to join NATO and adopting neutral status .

“The issue of neutral status and no NATO membership for Ukraine is one of the key issues in the talks, and this is the issue on which the parties closed their positions to the maximum,” Medinsky said in remarks circulated by Russian media .

He added that the sides are now “halfway” on Ukraine’s demilitarization issues.

Earlier in the day it was reported that one person was killed in the missile attack near Lviv. Satellite photos showed the strike destroyed a repair hangar and appeared to damage two other buildings. A number of fighter jets appeared intact, but ahead of them was an apparent impact crater.

Ukraine said it shot down two of six missiles in the salvo that came from the Black Sea.

The early-morning attack was the closest attack yet to central Lviv, which has become a crossroads for people fleeing other parts of Ukraine and for others entering to render or join aid join fight. The war has swelled the city’s population by about 200,000.

In city after city in Ukraine, hospitals, schools and buildings where people were sheltering were attacked. Rescuers continued to search for survivors in the ruins of a theater used as a shelter when it was destroyed by a Russian airstrike in the besieged southern city of Mariupol on Wednesday.

Ludmyla Denisova, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner, said at least 130 people survived the bombing of the theater.

“But according to our data, there are still more than 1,300 people in these basements, in this bomb shelter,” Denisova told Ukrainian television. “We pray that they are all alive, but so far there is no information about them.”

Early in the morning barrages also hit a residential building in the Podil district of Kyiv, killing at least one person, according to emergency services, who said 98 people were evacuated from the building. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said 19 were injured in the shelling.

Two others were killed when strikes hit residential and administrative buildings in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, according to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

The fighting has caused nearly 3.3 million people to flee Ukraine, according to United Nations estimates. The death toll remains unclear, although thousands of civilians and soldiers are believed to have been killed on both sides.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s defenses had proved much stronger than expected and Russia “didn’t know what we had to defend or how we were preparing to meet the blow.”

World leaders have called for Russia to be investigated for possible war crimes over its attacks on civilians. The World Health Organization said it had confirmed 43 attacks on hospitals and other healthcare facilities, killing 12 people.


Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and other AP journalists around the world contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine


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