Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a rally celebrating the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, Russia, on Friday. Photo by Sergei Guneyev/EPA-EFE
March 18 (UPI) -- President Vladimir Putin gave a speech Friday marking the anniversary of the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 during a rally in a stadium in Moscow.
During the speech, Putin said that Russia "needed to drag Crimea out of that humiliating position and state that Crimea and Sevastopol had been pushed into when they were part of" Ukraine, according to a transcript of the speech released by the Kremlin.
The broadcast of Putin's speech on state television in Russia was interrupted by what the Kremlin called a technical error, according to CNN.
The annexation of Crimea by Russia has not been recognized by the West and was a catalyst for broader conflict between the two countries before Russia invaded Ukraine last month.
"The fact is we know what needs to be done next, how it needs to be done, and at what cost -- and we will fulfill all these plans, absolutely," Putin said, according to the Kremlin transcript.
"These decisions are not even as important as the fact that the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol made the right choice when they put up a firm barrier against neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists."
Putin said that the invasion of Ukraine was launched to "relieve these people of suffering, of this genocide" while continuing his framing that the war is a "special operation."
He also made attempts to describe the "unity" of Russian troops and citizens despite reports of heavy Russian losses and nationwide protests.
"The best evidence of this is how our fellows are fighting and acting in this operation: shoulder to shoulder, helping and supporting each other," Putin said, according to the Kremlin transcript.
"If they have to, they will cover each other with their bodies to protect their comrade from a bullet in the battlefield, as they would to save their brother. It has been a long time since we had such unity."
Many of the attendees at the speech told the BBC that they had been pressured into attending the speech by their employers and schools, which allegedly told students they would be given the day off from classes if they attended "a concert."
"I'll be here for a while and then I'll leave," one man told the BBC. "I think most people here don't support the war. I don't."