At least 45,000 Russians have gathered in 33 cities to mark the 1,000-day countdown to the 2018 World Cup soccer championship games.
Not attending the September 18 event, however, was FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke, whose absence despite a previously scheduled appearance was due to his being suspended from his duties amid allegations he was involved in black-market sales of tickets to 2014 World Cup matches.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, appearing at Moscow's Red Square celebration by video linkup from Sochi, said Russia "promises to organize a grand sports holiday, which I am sure will make the history of the world sports and global football."
Putin launched a youth soccer tournament but he did not mention Valcke, who was FIFA President Sepp Blatter's right-hand man.
Blatter sent his regards in a statement, saying, "Given the current level of preparations, we are fully confident that Russia will prove to be an excellent host both for the teams and the fans."