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About 200,000 people have gathered in Moscow to hear Vladimir Putin speak at a pro-war rally ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Huge crowds assembled in the capital as the Russian president took to the stage at the “Glory to Defenders of the Fatherland” concert, held at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday.

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Mr Putin called on them to chant “Russia, Russia” in a show of support for those serving in the armed forces.

“They fight heroically, courageously, bravely. We are proud of them,” Mr Putin told his audience, who waved red, blue and white flags.

“Today, they are supported by the whole country,” he added.

Mr Putin said he had just been updated by military chiefs on the situation in Ukraine, telling the crowds: “When we are together, we have no equal.

“To the unity of the Russian people.”

His address was delivered on the eve of a holiday in Russia on Thursday to honour people serving in the armed forces.

In an earlier speech on Tuesday, Mr Putin blamed the West for starting the war in Ukraine as he suspended participation in a key nuclear treaty.

Mr Putin said the West “released the genie from the bottle” in the decade prior to the war by starting other conflicts.

And he vowed Moscow would “continue to resolve the objectives” of what the Kremlin describes as a “special military operation”.

But US President Joe Biden warned his Russian counterpart had made a “big mistake” by announcing he would suspend participation in the New START nuclear accord.

He said he would defend “every inch of NATO” at the Bucharest Nine summit in Warsaw.

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Biden ‘the Cold War warrior’

“What is at stake is not just Ukraine, it is freedom,” Mr Biden said.

“Things have changed radically, we have to make sure we change them back.”

Russia’s invasion has left millions displaced, with more than 8,000 civilians recorded as killed in the conflict, according to the UN human rights office.

Read more:

Russian radio stations play out ‘fake’ air raid warning after ‘hack’
Zelenskyy vows ‘We must ensure victory this year’

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Thousands more are thought to have been killed.

Meanwhile, recent bombing has destroyed 95 different educational institutions and damaged more than 1,000 – with schools told to teach students remotely in some parts of Ukraine from Wednesday, as fears grow of shelling ahead of the first anniversary of the war on Friday.

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