MOSCOW — In a short but fiery presidential campaign speech, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called on voters Thursday to prepare for battle to protect the country's future.
Government opponents and foreign influences are threatening to weaken Russia, Putin told tens of thousands of people at a rally in Moscow held on Defender of the Fatherland Day, a national holiday known as Red Army Day during the Soviet era.
"We won't allow anybody to interfere with our internal affairs and we won't allow anybody to impose his will on us because we have a will of our own!" Putin told the crowd, largely made up of government workers brought near the Luzhniki soccer stadium in chartered buses. "The battle of Russia is continuing! Victory will be ours!"
Putin, who presents himself as a defender of Russia, has about 50 percent support nationwide and is expected to win his third presidential term in the March 4 election, in part because there are no strong opponents on the ballot. Large antigovernment protests have been held recently in response to a parliamentary election won by Putin's party that many considered damaged by fraud.
In his speech Thursday, Putin did not specify who or what Russia would face in battle, though he has described protest leaders as agents of the West working against Russia.
Some in the crowd praised the prime minister and former president, while others showed little enthusiasm, at times hesitating to say why they attended a pro-Putin rally.