Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Russia’s “united society” in his prerecorded New Year’s message to the nation, the country’s state news agencies reported Sunday.

Putin addressed Russians in a video less than four minutes long, significantly shorter than the New Year’s speech he gave last year, according to state news agency RIA Novosti. Millions of people were expected to watch the new message on television as Russian regions across time zones welcomed the New Year.

Returning to tradition after speaking flanked by soldiers last year, Putin delivered his address to the nation with a snowy Kremlin in the background. In statements published by RIA Novosti, he said that 2023 was a year marked by high levels of unity in Russian society.

“What united us and unites us is the destiny of the homeland, a deep understanding of the extremely high relevance of the historical stage that Russia is going through,” declared the president. He also praised the “solidarity, compassion and fortitude” of Russian citizens.

The war in Ukraine featured prominently in the speech. Putin directly addressed the Russian military involved in what the Kremlin has called its “special military operation” in the neighboring country.

“We are proud of you, you are heroes, you feel the support of all the people,” said the president. According to state media, he emphasized that Russia will never back down, and stated that there is no force that can divide Russians and stop the country’s development.

The message was released the day after projectiles fired into the center of the Russian border city of Belgorod left 24 dead, including three children. Another 108 people were wounded, said Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of Belgorod, making the attack one of the deadliest on Russian territory since Moscow began its invasion of Ukraine 22 months ago.

Like last year, New Year’s celebrations were more low-key in Moscow, including the cancellation of the traditional fireworks and concert in Red Square. Following the attack on Belgorod, local authorities in the Pacific port of Vladivostok and other sites across Russia also canceled their usual fireworks displays.