Putin hails Russia's 'special operation' in Ukraine in packed Moscow stadium

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MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russian President Vladimir Putin used a rally before a packed football stadium on Friday (March 18) to justify the invasion of Ukraine, promising tens of thousands of people waving Russian flags that all 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,” Mr Putin told a rally at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

He said the soldiers fighting in what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine had illustrated 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,” he said.

The Russian president was speaking at the stadium to mark the eighth anniversary of Crimea’s annexation on Friday.

As Mr Putin was talking, state television briefly cut away from his speech and showed earlier pre-recorded footage of patriotic songs, but the Kremlin chief 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 Mr Putin.

It later aired the full speech, which ended a few seconds after the cutaway with Mr Putin leaving the stage as thousands of spectators waved Russian flags at the 80,000-capacity Luzhniki stadium.

Mr 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 Mr Putin’s claims of genocide are nonsense. The West says claims it wants to rip Russia apart are fiction.

The stage where Mr Putin spoke was decked out with slogans such as “For a world without Nazism” and “For our president”, using the “Z” - markings used in the military operation in Ukraine.

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

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 sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb 24 in an effort to degrade its southern neighbour's military capabilities and root out people it called dangerous nationalists.

Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw its forces.

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