Russians Offered 'Free Buffet' to Attend Putin's Speech on Crimea

Russians are being offered a "free buffet" to attend an event to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in Moscow on Saturday, Newsweek has found.

Tens of thousands are expected to take part in a concert-rally at Moscow's main Luzhniki Stadium this weekend to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 2014 annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. The Kremlin has yet to comment on the rally, but adverts are circulating on social media from volunteer groups calling on Russians to attend the "patriotic event."

Tensions have been rising in recent weeks as Ukraine has signaled it intends to recapture Crimea. In February, a Ukrainian official said that his country is preparing "assault brigades" to take back its occupied territories, including Crimea. Fears are growing that such a move would be a red line for Russia and that Putin may use his country's nuclear capabilities to defend the territory.

Putin is expected to make an appearance at Saturday's rally, which is set to feature performances from pop stars and rock groups.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on March 18, 2022. Russians are being offered a “free buffet” to attend an event to mark the ninth anniversary on Saturday. SERGEI GUNEYEV/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

"On March 18, 2023, a patriotic event dedicated to the Day of the Reunification of Crimea with Russia will take place at the Luzhniki Grand Sports Arena in Moscow!" volunteer group Mega Volunteer Moscow posted on VKontakte, with a link to a Google document form.

In capitals, the group wrote that a speech is expected by the Russian president.

"You are waiting for the performances of Russian pop stars, such as: Shaman, Oleg Gazmanov, Lyube, After Tomorrow and other top artists!" the post added.

"Our team guarantees your participation in the event as a spectator and a lot of cool emotions!!!," it said.

The organization said that those who sign up to attend the rally will be entitled to a "free buffet."

"Friends! Everyone who applied for the concert, your application has been accepted and you will definitely receive a free ticket! We will post information about obtaining tickets and the collection point where tickets will be issued 5 days before the concert!" it added.

Mega Volunteer Moscow previously rounded up Russians to attend a major Putin rally at the same stadium in February to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day. Free food was also offered in exchange for attending that event and people were also targeted with advertisements offering them money to attend.

In 2012, tens of thousands of people filled Luzhniki Stadium for a campaign rally, days before a vote was held that saw Putin elected as Russian president for the second time.

An NBC News report at the time cited a 21-year-old, who said he came with friends and that they were all promised a payment of 2,000 rubles, approximately $68 each using historical exchange rates.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Putin will hold a number of events on the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea.

"On the very day of the anniversary, there will be some more events for the president," Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Last year's event came weeks after Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. He took to the stage to say that Russia did the right thing by "pulling Crimea out of the humiliating state it was in when it was part of another state."

Newsweek has contacted Russia's ministry of foreign affairs by email for comment.

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