Putin attends first public event after months of lockdown

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Members of the Russian hydroflight team hold the Russian national flag during the Day of Russia celebration in St.Petersburg, Russia, Friday, June 12, 2020, with business tower Lakhta Centre, the headquarters of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom and Gazprom Arena soccer stadium in the background. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday showed up at a ceremony marking the national holiday — the first big public event he has attended since announcing a nationwide lockdown more than two months ago.

Putin observed the hoisting of the national flag at a memorial park in western Moscow and then took part in an award ceremony. He wasn't wearing a mask, and neither did most of those whose hands he shook after presenting them with Hero of Russia medals.

Putin pointed to the nation's “thousand-year history full of pages of great glory and pride, the unrivaled bravery of our ancestors and their love for their country.” In his speech, he particularly hailed medical workers, praising their courage and self-sacrifice.

The 67-year-old Russian leader's previous public appearance came in late March, when he attended a meeting with business people just as he announced a partial economic shutdown intended to stem the outbreak. He authorized regional governors to decide on restrictive measures, and most of them imposed tight lockdowns at the end of March.

Since then, Putin has held near-daily video calls, but just a few offline meetings with top officials. When Russia marked Victory Day on May 9, the nation's most important holiday marking the Nazi defeat in World War II, Putin stood alone to observe a parade of the Kremlin guard regiment.

Several top officials, including Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, were infected with the virus. They have now recovered.

Russian media reported that the Kremlin has maintained a tight protocol to protect Putin, placing officials and aides on quarantine for two weeks prior to meeting him.

Asked if those whom Putin awarded with medals also had undergone the same procedure, Peskov said that participants in the ceremony had been tested for the virus but refused to offer further details.