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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Honors Army Past and Present

VOLGOGRAD, Southern Russia -- Acting President Vladimir Putin beat a martial drum on the campaign trail Tuesday, paying tribute to veterans at the scene of the bloodiest battle of World War II.

He promised victory soon in rebel Chechnya, where he said Russia's army had dispelled doubts about its might.

"Seeing [this monument], one's breath is taken away by sorrow, and at the same time, by the greatness of our fatherland," he told veterans assembled on a freezing morning at a monument to those killed at Stalingrad in southern Russia where he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The city, now called Volgograd, was the scene of the decisive battle that crippled the invading German army in the winter of 1942-43. Nearly 2 million died in the fighting, now marked by a huge statue of Mother Russia bearing a sword.

Putin was visiting on the eve of Wednesday's Defender of the Fatherland Day, known in Soviet times as Red Army Day, one of the most important holidays in a country that highly reveres its soldiers and veterans.

"The last months have proven that all that talk of how our army has fallen apart and lost its preparedness - it was all blatant lies," he told a regional government meeting.

"We need not blush for our soldiers, officers and generals acting now in Chechnya. The army is fulfilling its duties as it should," Putin said.

He told reporters he rated the army's performance in Chechnya as "excellent," and said the results of the campaign would be seen soon. Putin also conferred with regional officials and rounded out the visit with a tour of a hospital where he awarded medals to soldiers wounded in Chechnya.

But he tempered his martial message with what has become a customary pledge not to interfere with civil rights.

"When I speak about strengthening the state, I do not mean strengthening the security forces that will crack down on everybody. The state must guarantee people's rights."

Back in Moscow on Tuesday evening, Putin returned to his praise of the armed forces at a pre-holiday gathering of military and political leaders.

"Granted the army is outside politics, but it is not on the sidelines of society," Interfax quoted him saying.

"Soldiers are above all people of the state, and we cannot have a strong country without their difficult work."