Last Friday, thousands of Russians packed into Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium to celebrate the eighth anniversary of the nation’s annexation of Crimea and hear President Vladimir Putin address the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Putin said the war was a testament to Russia’s “Christian values” and even cited John 15:13 as support for the invasion.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has been broadly condemned by an international coalition and has further isolated the nation from Western governments. The U.S. has imposed a broad swatch of sanctions on Russia, and President Joe Biden branded Putin as a “war criminal” for his actions.
But in Russia, Putin is insisting to his people that military action was necessary to stop “neo-Nazis and extreme nationalists” who were committing “genocide” in the region.
“It is to get people out of their misery, out of this genocide, that is the main reason, the motive and purpose of the military operation that we began in Donbas and Ukraine,” Putin said. “And this is where the words from the Scriptures come to my mind: ‘There is no greater love than if someone gives his soul for his friends'” — a paraphrase of John 15:13.
Putin was mid-speech on Friday when the television feed abruptly cut off. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed the interruption on a technical problem, and the full speech was later re-aired on state TV.
The Russian Orthodox Church has stood by Putin during the war, even as other branches of the Orthodox Church have condemned the invasion. Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia posted a statement asking God to “preserve the Russian land” from “evil forces.”