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Moscow observes a holiday honoring its armed forces one year after Russia invaded Ukraine

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Today marks one year since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow was quiet as the country observed a holiday honoring its armed forces. From Moscow, NPR's Charles Maynes reports.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: After a year of war that saw Russian forces initially race through Ukrainian territory only to retreat on multiple fronts in the months that followed, a celebration may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet across the country, on the eve of the invasion's anniversary, fireworks rang out to honor the annual Defender of the Fatherland holiday and the ongoing war effort in Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin got a rock star welcome from supporters - many of them reportedly paid to attend - in a televised concert at the city's largest stadium.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Addressing the crowd, the Kremlin leader insisted Russians were united behind the military campaign that has come at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, both Ukrainian and Russian. Offstage, in a videotaped message, Putin made the case the war was worth any price to reclaim Russia's historical lands.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "At this very moment, our warriors are heroically battling to eradicate neo-Nazis that have put down roots in Ukraine," he said. "They're defending our people on our land." Putin also said Russia was working to replenish its conventional arms and strengthen its nuclear triad of missiles capable of launching from air, land and sea against Western aggressors. That announcement followed Putin's decision to suspend Russian participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with the U.S., worrying both foes and allies alike. China, which has offered cautious support for Russian interests in Ukraine, today implicitly rebuked Moscow for its threat to use nuclear weapons.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: The statement from Beijing, which called for a cease-fire, came just days after Putin hosted China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, at the Kremlin in a charm offensive aimed at securing China's support. One year into Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, the Kremlin leader is still casting around for new global allies, even as Putin prepares his country for a long war that he has now fully recast as an existential fight to protect the homeland.

Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.