Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for united support of his army in his annual new year address, without explicitly referring to the war he is waging in Ukraine.
« We have proven more than once that we can solve the most difficult problems and will never retreat, because there is no force that can divide us, » the Russian president said.
« We are united in our thoughts, in work and in battle, on weekdays and holidays, showing the most important traits of the Russian people – solidarity, mercy, fortitude, » he said.
The Kremlin leader hailed his soldiers as “heroes… at the forefront of the fight for truth”.
He also referenced economic issues, a key topic for many Russians, and declared 2024 the « year of the family ».
The address was a more subdued affair than the previous year’s.
Last year, Mr Putin delivered his speech flanked by soldiers and offered stern calls for sacrifice in the name of survival. This year he was back to the traditional backdrop of the Kremlin, alone.
« To everyone who is at a combat post, at the forefront of the fight for truth and justice: You are our heroes, our hearts are with you, » he said, adding: « We are proud of you, we admire your courage. »
That was as close as Mr Putin got to making mention of the thousands of Russian casualties in the war with Ukraine, which includes more than 20 people killed in the border city of Belgorod over the weekend.
The pre-recorded address aired on state television just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.
The speech is a tradition started by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, and is a key holiday event in Russia, watched by millions.
In early December, Mr Putin announced he would stand for a fifth term in office in elections due to take place in March 2024.
With opposition almost non-existent and Russian media completely under his control, itis widely believed Mr Putin’s victory is inevitable.