Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a massive rally at a stadium in Moscow on Friday and praised the “unity” among his countrymen and military as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth week.
“Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other,” Putin said to a huge crowd of flag-waving supporters, according to a translation by The Associated Press. “We have not had unity like this for a long time.”
Authorities in Moscow said the stadium was filled with more than 200,000 people celebrating the anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which was taken from Ukraine in 2014. U.S. President Joe Biden was vice president at the time.
The celebration included a performance by singer Oleg Gazmanov, who sang “Made in the U.S.S.R” which includes the lines, “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, it’s all my country.”
Speaking for roughly five minutes, Putin justified the war in Ukraine as a righteous sacrifice.
“There is no greater love than giving up one’s soul for one’s friends,” Putin said, paraphrasing the Bible. He added that the invasion was necessary to stop “genocide.”
Meanwhile, Russian forces continue to hammer Ukrainian civilians, including 43 attacks on hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which were confirmed by the World Health Organization. The attacks have left at least 12 people dead and dozens injured.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” for the illegal invasion.
“I think he is a war criminal,” Biden said to reporters after speaking at the White House.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s comments “speak for themselves,” adding that the president was “speaking from the heart.”
While Biden’s remarks indicate a change in the administration’s previous stance on whether Putin is a war criminal, Psaki said no official designation has been made.
“There is a legal process that continues to be underway at the State Department,” she said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed U.S. officials are evaluating Russia’s possible war crimes and noted that intentionally targeting civilians will lead to “massive consequences” if confirmed.
Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo, the United Nations political chief, called for civilian casualties in Ukraine to be investigated due to international humanitarian law that bans deliberate attacks on civilians.
DiCarlo said many of the attacks hammering Ukraine “are reportedly indiscriminate” and include “explosive weapons with a wide impact area.”
The assaults on Mariupol and Kharkiv raise “grave fears about the fate of millions of residents of Kyiv and other cities facing intensifying attacks,” she added.