Moscow, Russia | AFP | President Vladimir Putin on Saturday promised “victories” for Russia at a star-studded rally attended by tens of thousands of supporters ahead of a March 18 election he is all but certain to win.
Olympic athletes, celebrities and cosmonauts had taken to the stage to voice their support for Putin, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades and is seeking to extend his Kremlin term to 2024.
“We want our country to be bright and looking to the future, for our children and grandchildren…we will do everything we can for them to be happy,” he told the cheering crowd at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium.
“Nobody else will do this for us. And if we do this, the coming decade and the whole 21st century will be marked by our bright victories,” he said.
“Together we are a team. Are we a team?” he asked the crowd, which replied, “Yes!”.
Organisers said around 100,000 people were expected to turn out. An AFP journalist said the stadium was completely full for Putin’s speech, which was to be followed by a concert by big-name Russian popstars.
Supporters held signs saying “I am for Putin”, “Putin is our president” and “I’m voting for the future”.
“I do not see another candidate who could be our commander in chief. He’s the only one. Putin is our president,” Oscar-winning director Nikita Mikhalkov said from the stage.
“Only with him can our country achieve cosmic successes,” said cosmonaut Sergei Ryazansky.
The event is the first rally in an otherwise lacklustre campaign for Putin, who has yet to produce a programme and has declined to take part in televised debates with seven other candidates.
None of the other contenders, including former socialite Ksenia Sobchak and millionaire communist Pavel Grudinin, has more than eight percent support, according to official polls.
On Thursday Putin used a state of the nation address to set the course for a new arms race with WMoscowngton, boasting of a new generation of “invincible” Russian weapons developed in response to recent actions by the United States.
He also outlined Russia’s priorities for the six years that would be his next term, focusing on reducing poverty and tackling environmental problems.
Despite campaign promises when Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012 after four years as prime minister, his last term was marked by a fall in living standards and Russia’s international isolation.
Boosted by a slavish media and foreign military adventures such as the annexation of Crimea in 2014, his approval rating remains sky-high and official polls suggest he will take almost 70 percent of the vote.