Putin Holds Massive Rally, Says Russia Will Prevail in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech at a packed soccer stadium on Friday praising his troops for fighting in Ukraine.

Coverage of his speech on state television was unexpectedly interrupted by what the Kremlin said was a technical problem with a server.

Speaking on a stage at the center of Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, Putin promised to tens of thousands of people waving Russian flags and chanting “Russia, Russia, Russia” that all of the Kremlin’s aims would be achieved.

“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, 69, told the rally from a stage decked out with slogans such as “For a world without Nazism” and “For our president.”

Many of the Russian slogans used at the rally incorporated the “Z” symbol that Russian forces have used as a motif in Ukraine. One read “Za Putina”—”for Putin.”

Moscow police said more than 200,000 people were in and around the Luzhniki stadium.

Dressed in a turtleneck and coat, Putin said the soldiers fighting in what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine had demonstrated the unity of Russia.

“Shoulder to shoulder, they help each other, support each other, and when needed they shield each other from bullets with their bodies like brothers. Such unity we have not had for a long time,” Putin said.

As he was talking, state television briefly cut away from his speech mid-sentence and showed earlier pre-recorded footage of patriotic songs, but he later appeared back on state television.

RIA news agency cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying a technical fault on a server was the reason state television had suddenly cut away from Putin.

It was not immediately clear why the server issue led to such an abrupt and unusual interruption.

The Moscow rally came as Russian troops continued to rain lethal fire on Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Kyiv, and pounded an aircraft repair installation on the outskirts of Lviv, close to the Polish border.

Putin says the operation in Ukraine was necessary because the United States was using the country to threaten Russia, and Russia had to defend against the “genocide” of Russian-speaking people by Ukraine.

Ukraine says it is fighting for its existence and that Putin’s claims of genocide are nonsense. The West says claims it wants to rip Russia apart are fiction.

Before Putin spoke, Russia’s national anthem, with the words “Russia is our sacred state” boomed out across the stands of the stadium used in the 2018 Soccer World Cup along with more modern pop hits such as “Made in the U.S.S.R.”

Putin’s favorite Russian band, Lyube, sang patriotic songs about war, sacrifice, and the honor of those fighting for Russia.

Pan-Slavist poetry by Fyodor Tyutchev, whose verses warned Russians that they would always be considered slaves of the Enlightenment by Europeans, was read out.

Russia has lost any illusions about ever relying on the West and Moscow will never accept a world order dominated by the United States, which is acting like a sheriff seeking to call all the shots in a saloon bar, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Putin quoted Russia’s 18th century naval commander, Fyodor Ushakov.

“He once said that these thunderstorms will bring Russia glory,” Putin said. “That is the way it was then, that is the way it is now, and it will always be that way.”

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

“The issue of neutral status and no NATO membership for Ukraine is one of the key issues in talks, and that is the issue where the parties have made their positions maximally close,” Medinsky said in remarks carried by Russian media.

He added that the sides are now “halfway” on issues regarding the demilitarization of Ukraine.

In other developments, U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke for nearly two hours in a bid by the United States to deter the Chinese regime from providing military or economic assistance for Russia’s invasion.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.