Putin holds rally in Moscow, praises Russian troops as Ukraine fights back invasion
Russian leader says country will 'absolutely accomplish all of our plans'
- Russian forces pound Ukraine's capital and also target Lviv, as British warn of 'reckless' new strategy
Russian President Vladimir Putin used a rally before a packed soccer stadium on Friday 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," Putin told a rally at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.
Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in an invasion on Feb. 24. 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.
Putin, who recently condemned what he called "scum" and "traitors" in Russia, said the soldiers fighting in what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine had illustrated the unity of his country.
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"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.
As 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 spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying a technical fault on a server was the reason state television had suddenly cut away from Putin.
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.
The stage where Putin spoke was decked out with slogans "For a world without Nazism" and "For our president," using the "Z" — markings used in the military operation in Ukraine.
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.
Russia has been facing increasing sanctions and diplomatic blowback from Western nations as it ramps up its invasion on Ukraine. Cities, including areas around the capital city Kyiv, have faced shelling and stepped-up attacks from Russian forces.
In the south, the strategic city of Mariupol has seen devastating Russian attacks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday said rescue work was ongoing at the site of a bombed theatre in Mariupol city from where 130 people have so far been recovered alive.
In an online address, Zelensky said shelling by Russian forces continued to prevent the authorities from establishing effective humanitarian corridors to the encircled port city in southern Ukraine.
Russian embassy staff expelled
Three Baltic countries have ordered the expulsion of Russian embassy staff members in a co-ordinated action taken in solidarity with Ukraine.
Lithuania's foreign ministry said on Friday that four Russian embassy staff are no longer welcome in the country, while in neighbouring Latvia, three Russian staff were declared persona non grata. Estonia also announced on Friday that it was ordering three staff of the Russian Embassy in the capital Tallinn to leave the country.
Bulgaria also said it has declared 10 Russian diplomats "persona non grata" and demanded their expulsion. In a statement on Friday, Bulgaria's foreign ministry said that Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov had been consulted on the expulsions.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has indicated that her country should consider imposing an oil embargo on Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. In a security policy speech Friday, she said it was important to take a stance and not remain silent due to economic or energy dependency.
"Even if it's difficult, including on questions now with regard to oil or other embargoes," said Baerbock.
With files from The Associated Press