Vladimir Putin, flanked by cheering supporters, strode on to a stage in the centre of Moscow’s colossal Luzhniki Stadium and urged a crowd of tens of thousands of flag-waving Russians to join him in building a bright and joyful future for the country’s children.
“Our ancestors lived here, we live here, and this is where our children and grandchildren will live,” Putin said on Saturday afternoon, at what was his sole campaign rally ahead of this month’s Russian presidential elections. “And we will do everything to make them happy!”
Standing beside Putin were celebrities and sports stars, including members of Russia’s men’s ice hockey team fresh from their triumph at the Winter Olympics. At Putin’s bidding, they burst into a rendition of Russia’s national anthem. Police said 80,000 people were present, with another 50,000 watching on big screens outside the stadium.
It was, on the face of it, a perfect demonstration of popular support for Putin, who is all but certain to secure another six-year term of office when Russians go to the polls on 18 March.