Russians were reportedly bribed to attend a major Vladimir Putin rally in Moscow on Wednesday 22 February. Here's what we know.
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Vladimir Putin's mass rally-concert
The mass rally at the Luzhniki Stadium, which can accommodate a crowd of 200,000, in Moscow took place a day after the Russian President's state-of-the-nation speech in the capital.
It was also held one day before Russia’s national 'Defender of the Fatherland' public holiday, which is today Thursday 23 February. The pro-war concert marked the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, taking place two days before.
Independent Russian publication Sirena posted images of a Google Forms sheet on their Telegram channel. The online forms were created by a Russian volunteer organization called Mega Volunteer. They encouraged Russians to sign up to attend the rally-concert, which reportedly featured performances from pop stars and rock groups. The form reads:
Friends! We are pleased to announce the set as spectators for a patriotic concert, which will be held in Luzhniki on February 22 in honor of the Defender of the Fatherland Day!
Artists will perform as in past years, such as: Oleg Gazmanov, Shaman, Lyube, Nikolai Baskov and others. The concert is free for everyone!
Bribing Russians to attend
The organisation claimed that those who sign up with them will benefit from front-row seats and other advantages. Sirena reported:
Spectators for a rally-concert are gathered in traditional ways...depending on their interests, people are offered free meals, a payment of 500 rubles ($7 dollars), or exemption from studies.
Meduza, a Russian and English language independent news website, similarly reported advertisements that appeared on Russian Telegram channels and other social networks. The recruitment ads offered people a payment of 500 rubles ($7) as well as merchandise if they attended the rally-concert.
While independent news outlet DOXA also reported that in Moscow and the surrounding regions, students were being offered exemptions from classes to be seat fillers at the event.
Despite these attempts to lure people, photos from the rally appear to show many empty seats in the stadium.
Vladimir Putin's speech
Surrounded by members of the armed forces, Putin stated in a short speech that the war in Ukraine intended to protect Russia's culture, interests and language, in addition to what he claimed were Moscow’s 'historical lands'. The President said, before leading the crowd in a rendition of the national anthem:
Our entire people are defenders of the fatherland! I bow to you.
Newsweek: 'Russians Being Offered Free Food to Attend Putin Rally'
Newsweek: 'Russians Are Being Offered $7 to Fill Crowd at Major Putin Rally'
Meduza: 'Extras recruited, promised 500 rubles, to attend a patriotic concert and rally in Moscow'
The Times: 'Putin rallies Russia at pro-Ukraine-war concert'