Campaign diary

Putin holds a dictator’s rally

Putin rally2

Vladimir Putin arrives at the rally at Luzhniki Stadium today. Photo: Dmitri Smirnov/@dimsmirnov175

by Sarah Hurst

Vladimir Putin held a “For a strong Russia” rally at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium today, a venue which will also host the World Cup final in July. There were multiple reports of state employees being bribed and cajoled to attend, including a tweet by reporter Marc Bennetts that people had been paid 500 roubles each to hold flags indicating that they were members of a green party. In true Soviet style, others held signs saying “Unions for Putin!” “Social workers for Putin!” and “Athletes of the central administrative okrug of the city of Moscow for Putin!”

Famous conductor and notorious Putin friend Valery Gergiev spoke at the rally, telling the crowd, “We have preserved our great art. I am proud of our country and proud of our president Vladimir Putin.” Ukrainians have protested against Gergiev at many of his concerts worldwide. The pop group Lyube performed at the rally, singing, “From the Volga to the Yenisei our feet don’t count the kilometres.” Grigory Leps sang a song called “The Best Day”.

No other option

Actor Mikhail Porechenkov was another of the celebrities who appeared on stage to praise Putin. Porechenkov gained notoriety in 2014 when he visited Donbass and fired a rifle at Ukrainian positions while wearing a helmet that said “PRESS” on it. Film director Nikita Mikhalkov, who also presents a propaganda programme on Russian state TV in which he spews venom at Ukraine and the Russian opposition, said at the rally, “Do you know any other presidential candidates? Can you imagine them as the commanders-in-chief of a nuclear power? That’s why we have no other option!”

78-year-old film director Vladimir Menshov, renowned for the Soviet classic “Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears,” said, “Thanks to the will of Putin Crimea joined Russia, and thanks to him the Crimea bridge appeared. Putin is the development of Russia.”

In his own speech, Putin said, “We want to make our country bright, striving forward, to the future. Because our ancestors lived here, we live here, our children live here and our children and grandchildren are going to live here. We will do everything so that they are happy. We will do this, yes?” The crowd replied, “Yes!” Putin concluded by saying that in that case, “the next decades, and the whole of the 21st century will pass under the sign of our bright victories.”

Several supporters of Alexei Navalny were detained at the rally for having Navalny stickers and badges, and well-known Moscow activist Elena Zakharova was also detained with a sign about Syria.

Geert Wilders visits Moscow

Meanwhile, despite Putin’s stated opposition to the far-right in Ukraine, he continues to host Europe’s most provocative far-right party leaders. During the French presidential election campaign last year Marine Le Pen flew to Moscow and met Putin. Today Geert Wilders of the Netherlands is in Russia meeting top officials, and tweeted a picture of himself standing at a podium in the State Duma in front of a Russian flag and coat of arms with the double-headed eagle, with the words “From Russia With Love”. Wilders told RT in an interview that he applauds the way Putin stands up for Russians. He has been evasive in the past when asked about Russia shooting down MH17 in 2014, an attack in which 189 Dutch citizens were killed. Meeting Russia’s deputy justice minister Mikhail Galperin yesterday, Wilders pledged to work with Russia to fight terrorism.

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