Meanwhile, the leader of the Russian delegation in diplomatic talks with Ukraine said that both sides have narrowed their differences. The Ukrainian side said their position remained unchanged.
The Moscow rally was surrounded by suspicion that it was a demonstration of patriotism created by the Kremlin. Several telegram channels criticizing the Kremlin have reported that students and employees of state institutions in several regions have been instructed by their superiors to attend rallies and concerts to mark the anniversary. Those reports could not be independently verified.
Elsewhere, Russian troops continued to rain deadly fire on Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, and hit an aircraft repair installation on the outskirts of Lviv, near the Polish border.
“Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other,” the Russian president told Kremlin forces in rare public appearances since the start of the war. “We have not had this kind of unity for a long time,” he added.
The rally was held on the occasion of the eighth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Moscow police say there were more than 200,000 people in the vicinity of Luzhniki Stadium. The event featured patriotic songs, including a performance by “Made in the USSR”, starting with “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, this is my country.”
Trying to justify the war, Putin explained the Bible about Russian soldiers: “There is no greater love for friends than to sacrifice one’s soul.”
Taking to the stage where a sign read “For a world without Nazism,” he made a baseless claim against his enemies in Ukraine that they were “neo-Nazis”. Putin insisted that his actions were necessary to prevent a “genocide” – an idea that leaders around the world have explicitly rejected.
Video feeds of the event took a while but showed a loud cheering crowd shouting “Russia!” Broke down into slogans.
Putin’s appearance marks a change from his relative isolation in recent weeks, when he was seen at the extraordinarily long table or video conference with the world leader and his staff.
In the wake of the attacks, the Kremlin has cracked down on dissent and the flow of information, arrested thousands of anti-war protesters, banned sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and imposed harsh penalties for what is considered false reporting. The war, which Moscow refers to as a “special military operation.”
The OVD-Info Rights Group, which monitors political arrests, says at least seven independent journalists have been detained in Moscow and St. Petersburg before or during the anniversary celebrations.
Standing on stage wearing a white turtleneck and a blue down jacket, Putin spoke for about five minutes. Some people, including the presenter at the event, wore T-shirts or jackets with “Z” – it was seen in Russian tanks and other military vehicles in Ukraine, and was embraced by supporters of the war.
Putin’s quotations from the Bible and a Russian admiral of the 18th century reflect his growing interest in history and religion as a compulsory force in post-Soviet Russia in recent years. The branding of its enemies as the Nazis, which many Russians consider the best time for their country, was the defense of the motherland from Germany during World War II.
The rally came as Vladimir Medinsky, who has led Russian negotiators in several rounds of talks with Ukraine, said the parties had moved closer to an agreement on Ukraine’s bid to join NATO and take a neutral position.
“This is an issue where the parties have been closest to their positions,” Medinsky said in a statement issued by the Russian media. He added that the parties are now “half way” on the issue of disarmament in Ukraine.
Mikhail Podoliak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, described the Russian assessment as aimed at “provoking the media.” He tweeted: “Our position remains unchanged. Strong security guarantee including ceasefire, withdrawal of troops and concrete formulas.
In other developments, U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke for nearly two hours about U.S. efforts to prevent Beijing from providing military or economic assistance to Russia’s aggression.
Earlier on Friday, a man was reported killed in a missile strike near Lviv. Satellite photos showed the strike destroyed a repair hangar and damaged two other buildings. Ukraine says it fired two of the six missiles at Volley, which came from the Black Sea.
The early morning attack was still the closest strike to the center of Lviv, which has become a crossroads for people fleeing from other parts of Ukraine and for others to enter to help or join the fighting. The population of the war city has increased by about 200,000.
Zelensky was proud that Ukraine’s defense had proved to be much stronger than expected, and that Russia “did not know what it was for our defense or how we were prepared to face injury.”
But British Chief of Defense Intelligence Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhull warned that after failing to capture major Ukrainian cities, Russian forces were moving toward an “attraction strategy” that would result in “reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower”. And a growing humanitarian crisis.
Cities, hospitals, schools and buildings in the vicinity of Ukraine have been attacked where people wanted security. Rescuers continue to search for survivors of the wreckage of a theater that was being used as a shelter after a Russian airstrike on Wednesday in the besieged southern city of Mariupol.
Ludmila Denisova, Ukraine’s parliamentary human rights commissioner, said at least 130 people had survived the bombing.
“However, according to our information, there are still more than 1,300 people in this bomb shelter,” Denisova told Ukrainian television. “We pray that they all survive, but so far there is no information about them.”
Satellite images obtained from Maxer Technologies on Friday showed a long line of vehicles leaving Mariupol when people tried to evacuate, as well as wrecking havoc on homes, apartment buildings and stores.
Early in the morning, barrages hit a residential building near Podil in Kiev, killing at least one person, according to emergency services, who said 98 people had been evacuated from the building. Kiev Mayor Vitaly Klitsko said 19 people had been injured in the shelling.
Ukrainian officials say a fireman was killed when Russian forces opened fire on an area where firefighters were trying to extinguish a fire in the village of Natayevka in the Zaporizhia region.
Two more people were killed during the attack on residential and administrative buildings in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, according to regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko.
Maj. Gen. Oleksandr Pavliuk, who is leading the defense in the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital, said his forces were in a good position to defend the city and promised: “We will never give up. We will fight to the end. Until the last breath and the last bullet. “
As many as 3.3 million people have fled the war in Ukraine, and an additional 6.5 million have fled to other parts of the country, according to the United Nations.
The death toll is not yet clear, although thousands of civilians and soldiers on both sides are thought to have been killed. World leaders have demanded an investigation into possible Russian war crimes against civilians.
The Associated Press writer from Lviv, Ukraine, Uras Karmanov, and other AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the War AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine