Source: Isabel van Brugen

Russian President Vladimir Putin suddenly disappeared from a state television broadcast during a speech at an event to mark the eighth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea on Friday. His spokesman blamed the interruption on a technical glitch.

Putin was delivering a speech at Moscow’s packed Luzhniki Stadium to an audience of thousands, where he began hailing what he described as Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, before the camera cut to a crowd waving Russian flags and Oleg Gazmanov’s performance of the song “Forward, Russia!”

“On our land, united by a common destiny,” Putin said, quoting the Russian constitution.

Putin pushed the Kremlin’s unsubstantiated claims that Ukrainians are committing “genocide” against ethnic Russians, and said, “it has been long since we saw such unity in our people.”

Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, saying that his offensive aims to “denazify” and demilitarize the country. Ukrainian and Western officials argue this a false pretext to justify the incursion.

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“The purpose of this operation is to protect people who for eight years now have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime,” he said in televised remarks last month. “To this end, we will seek to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin’s speech was interrupted because of a technical glitch.

“This was caused by a technical failure on the server,” Peskov was quoted by Russian state-run media outlets as saying.

Russian state television later broadcast Putin’s full speech, which ended a few seconds after the interruption.

The event was aired on nearly all major Russian TV channels, including Channel One, Russia 1, NTV, TVC, Match, Channel Five, REN TV, STS, TNT, TV-3, Russia 24, OTR, Home, and Friday, according to the Telegram messaging service channel, Editorial Office.

Before the broadcast was interrupted, Putin said the purpose of the “special operation” in Ukraine is to “save people from genocide” and quoted the Gospel of John: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

“It so happened that the beginning of the operation coincided—quite by chance—with the birthday of one of our outstanding military leaders,” the Russian president said as he walked around a stage.

Russian police say some 200,000 attended the pro-government event. Independent media accused Russian authorities of forcing state company workers to attend and said online adverts offered small fees for attendance.

Luzhniki Stadium initially called the Central Lenin Stadium, has a total seating capacity of 81,000.

Follow our live blog for updates on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Update 03/18/22, 11:43 a.m ET: This article was updated with additional background information.

Update 03/18/22, 12:55 p.m ET: This article was updated with additional background information.