At a rally in Moscow on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin paraphrased John 15:13 to justify the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which has killed hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children.
During his speech at the rally held in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium to “celebrate” the eighth anniversary of Crimea’s annexation, which is not recognized by most countries, Putin lauded the Russian military for “heroically” fighting in Ukraine.
“You know, I remember the words from the Bible. There is no other love rather than if someone gives soul for their friends,” Putin said, according to the BBC broadcast of his speech. The remark was followed by huge applause from the crowd.
Putin’s remark was a reference to John 15:13, which states: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
“We are seeing the heroic deeds of our guys in this operation,” Putin added, according to the CNN translation. “These words from the holy scripture of Christianity, it’s something that is very dear to those who profess this religion.”
“But everything is down to the facts that this universal value for all the peoples and all the confessions of Russia and for own people above all and the best confirmation of that is how our guys are fighting in the course of this military operation, shoulder to shoulder, helping and supporting each other,” he continued. “If the need comes, they will shield each other on the battlefield from the bullets as brothers. We have not had such unity for a long time.”
During Putin’s speech, Russia 24, the state-owned media outlet broadcasting the address, switched to footage of a military band playing on the same stage, The Moscow Times reported. The independent news outlet noted that “Russian state television is tightly controlled and such interruptions are highly unusual.”
However, the Kremlin later claimed the broadcast was “interrupted due to technical problems on the server.”
While the RIA Novosti news agency reported over 95,000 in attendance and over 100,000 outside the stadium, the newspaper cited reports of some people being forced to attend the rally.
“They stuck us in a bus and drove us here,” one woman was quoted as telling the SOTA news outlet outside the stadium.
Some reports in Russian media also suggested that people were offered 500 rubles (approximately $5) to attend the event.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Friday it had recorded 2,149 civilian casualties, including 816 killed and 1,333 injured, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24.
Those dead include 152 men, 116 women, seven girls, 16 boys, 36 children and 489 adults whose sex is not yet known. However, “the actual figure could be much higher,” the OHCHR reported.
“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes," the OHCHR statement said.
Nearly 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine and over 3.2 million have fled the country, the U.N. migration agency reported Friday. Nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million population has been forced to flee.
“The pace and magnitude of the internal displacement and refugee exodus from Ukraine, as well as resulting humanitarian needs, will only increase if the situation deteriorates,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh said, according to AFP.
Despite quoting the New Testament, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been condemned by nearly 300 Russian Orthodox leaders in an open letter issued earlier this month.
“We mourn the ordeal to which our brothers and sisters in Ukraine were undeservedly subjected,” the Russian Orthodox clerics wrote in their open letter. “The Last Judgment awaits every person.”
“No earthly authority, no doctors, no guards will protect from this judgment. Concerned about the salvation of every person who considers himself a child of the Russian Orthodox Church, we do not want him to appear at this judgment, bearing the heavy burden of mother’s curses.”
Moscow Patriarch Kirill, an ally of Putin’s, has been accused of lending religious justification for the invasion, although countless religious leaders have called for him to condemn the violence.
In late February, Kirill reportedly called Russia’s opposition in Ukraine “evil forces” who have “fought against the unity of Russia and the Russian Church prevail.”
In addition to the more than 280 Russian Orthodox priests, over 400 ministers of Evangelical churches in Russia have called for reconciliation and an immediate end to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The General Secretary of the Russian Evangelical Alliance released a statement last week saying he mourns the invasion and did “everything I could do to prevent war.”
“Peaceful feelings are being destroyed amidst the bombing and shelling, and a stream of increased attention has rushed across Europe in the form of refugees: women, the elderly, and children,” REA General Secretary Vitaly Vlasenko said in the statement addressed to his “dear brothers and sisters around the world.”
The Orthodox Public Affairs Committee, which advocates on behalf of the global Orthodox Christian Church, said in a statement that Kirill’s words enable Putin by “giving religious cover to this unconscionable and unjustified conflict.”
“Kirill’s statements ring hollow and have the stench of direct government interference,” the OPAC statement shared with The Christian Post reads. “Is this because he owes his position and the lucrative benefits he receives to Vladimir Putin? Why does he not speak out for his Ukrainian Flock? Why does he endorse the Russian military, even presenting them with a holy icon?”