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Russians Rally To Support Government, Olympic Athletes


A supporter waves a Russian flag in front of the logo of the International Olympic Committee at their headquarters near Lausanne. (file photo)

Tens of thousands of Muscovites have come out for a government-organized concert and demonstration under the slogan "Russia In My Heart."

The February 3 demonstration outside the Kremlin served two purposes: It continued the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the Battle of Stalingrad that began one day earlier and it marked a send-off for Russian athletes heading to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Police estimated the crowd at about 60,000 people, who stood in wet snow watching large monitors showing Russia's army and navy conducting military operations in Syria overlaid with waving Russian flags to the sound of patriotic anthems.

Some participants expressed resentment that Russian athletes at the Pyeongchang Olympics will have to participate under a neutral flag because Russia has been banned over systemic doping violations by carrying signs reading: "Athletes without a flag are athletes without a motherland."

Valery Fadeyev, head of the Public Chamber governmental advisory panel, noted that current Western sanctions against Russia were insignificant compared to the suffering of Soviet citizens during World War II.

"We do not fear these sanctions at all," Fadeyev told the crowd in Moscow.

Smaller demonstrations were reportedly held in other Russian cities. In all, the Interior Ministry reported some 520,000 people participated in the event in 129 cities.

Some 12,000 people participated in St. Petersburg, police said.

On February 2, President Vladimir Putin hosted commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the Battle of Stalingrad in the southern city where the battle took place, now called Volgograd.

Well over 1 million people were killed in the battle, which marked the turning point in World War II and from which the Soviet Army launched its march to Berlin.

With reporting by the BBC, AP, and RIA Novosti
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