By Brendan Cole
Vladimir Putin described his vision of Russia as a country in which solidarity and consensus reigned on a day when more than 1,000 people were arrested for opposing his partial mobilization to help his faltering war effort in Ukraine.
Hours after announcing that up to 300,000 reservists would be called up to stem the losses of his forces in Ukraine, the Russian president outlined his pride at the history of his country in Veliky Novgorod to mark the 1160th anniversary of Russian statehood.
He name-checked historical figures, Ivan the Terrible—a 16th century tsar who killed his own son—and World War II general Georgy Zhukov, who helped defeat the Nazis, whose alleged presence in Ukraine has been used by Putin as a pretext for his invasion.
He also said he had considered adding Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to the list of luminaries before crossing it out because “not enough time” had passed for “comprehensive and objective assessments free from the pressure of ongoing political developments.”
As he outlined his country’s journey over a millennium from ancient Holy Rus, the Tsardom of Muscovy, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, Putin said “each of us has an enormous responsibility for Russia, for protecting and strengthening our vast country.”
“No one will ever be able to ban or cancel our unique civilization,” he said, “just as it is impossible to rattle, or even less so, to destroy the values that make Russian society one and make us one big, united nation.”
However, on the same day, at least 1386 people were arrested in 38 cities across Russia during demonstrations against Putin’s invasion and partial mobilization, according to rights group OVD-Info. Dozens were held in Irkutsk and other Siberian cities, and in Yekaterinburg.
The group said that more than 500 people were detained in Moscow and St. Petersburg respectively and that since the start of the invasion on February 24, there have been more than 16,000 arrests.
The political movement Vesna, which helped organize the actions, posted video and pictures on its Telegram social media channel, showing a heavy police presence at demonstrations where people chanted the slogan “No to war.”
But far removed from the protests, Putin described the glory of Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, which he said was necessary to tackle threats to Russian sovereignty.
“Being a patriot is the essence of the nature and character of the Russian people,” Putin said. “Our heroes, our soldiers, officers and volunteers are displaying exactly these superior human qualities in the course of the special military operation.”
Putin added that they were fighting “courageously, shoulder to shoulder, as brothers for the sake of saving the people of Donbas.”