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Putin Wraps Campaign in Patriotism at Mass Rally

Presidential candidate and Russia's current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a rally in Moscow to support his candidature in the upcoming presidential election, February 23, 2012

Ten days before Russia’s presidential elections, Vladimir Putin addressed a mass meeting, wrapping his candidacy in patriotic colors.

Standing in light snow on the Luzhniki playing field, in Moscow’s largest sports stadium, Russia’s prime minister faced a full house - 80,000 people.

He shouted “Will we win?” And the crowd roared back 'Da' which means "Yes".

In the Soviet era, February 23 was Red Army Day. Now it is called Defenders of the Fatherland Day, and Putin said Russian patriots are on his side.

In the past two months, Putin and his followers have claimed Washington is behind large opposition rallies against his government.

At the sports stadium, he picked up the theme, without naming names.

Watch video of Putin rally

Citing Russia’s victory against Napoleon 200 years ago, he warned: “The fight for our country continues.”

Visibly angry, Putin shouted: “We will not allow anyone to interfere in our internal affairs.”

The crowd largely middle aged and elderly, was more subdued, saying they will vote for Putin because they value his experience running Russia.

Yuri Mikhailovich, a 71-year-old electric engineer, said Putin is the only candidate of the five in the race with on the job training. He cited the value of Putin’s two terms as president and one term as prime minister.

Habib, a 56-year-old driver, bitterly recalled the communist era. He said there was no bread or salt in the stores and that workers had to wait 10 years to buy a refrigerator. He said that the communists kept workers like inmates in a concentration camp. Habib and many others came by buses specially chartered for the Putin rally.

Many declined to talk to reporters. One woman holding a red “For Putin” balloon said she only kept it to give to her granddaughter. A man storing dozens of pro-Putin signs in the back of a van declined to say why he was at the rally.

People take part in a rally to support presidential candidate and Russia's current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, February 23, 2012
People take part in a rally to support presidential candidate and Russia's current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, February 23, 2012

Mass produced in a uniform style, the signs read: “For clean elections” and “We won’t let them ruin our country” and “Who, if not Putin?”

Opposition supporters also came to hand out leaflets.

Nikita Vlasihin, the 25-year-old owner of an Internet store, handed out anti-corruption pamphlets. Each contained a white ribbon, the symbol of the protest movement that has swept Russia since the controversial December 4 parliamentary elections.

He says many people accept his pamphlets and tell him they only came to the Putin rally because their work supervisors ordered them to come. “This meeting is total fake, 80 percent fake, 20 percent real people who are pro-Putin,” said Vlasihin.

But inside Luzhniki stadium, Putin appeared happy with the massive turnout.

Looking around, Putin said he could not shake every hand. But he concluded by thanking everyone - in advance - for their votes.

Russian presidential candidates:

Vladimir Putin
President from 2000-2008. Currently serves as prime minister, and is running on the United Russia party ticket. His popularity is waning among the Russian middle class, but is expected to win the March election.
Mikhail ProkhorovRussia's third richest man. He is running as an independent, but was formerly part of the pro-business Right Cause party. He is highly critical of Russian corruption and overinflated bureaucracy, and is poising himself as the middle class's candidate.
Gennady ZyuganovThe Communist Party leader, running for the fourth time since 1996. He is considered most likely to have a runoff with Putin. He aims to strengthen Russia by increasing social welfare through the nationalization of state resources.
Sergei MironovA Just Russia party candidate. Aims to build an effective Social Democratic political system. He was criticized for not taking a stronger stance against Putin. Mironov believes Russia and American diplomatic efforts are "doomed to agreements, collaboration and partnership."
Vladimir ZhirinovskyThe founder of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, running for president for the fifth time since 1991. He is the most outspoken candidate promoting a nationalistic, anti-American agenda.