Putin says there will be no peace in Ukraine until Russia achieves its goals

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that there will be no peace in Ukraine until the Kremlin achieves its goals, which remain unchanged after nearly two years of fighting that has raised tensions between Moscow and the West.

Speaking at a year-end news conference that lasted more than four hours and gave him a chance to strengthen his grip on power, Putin offered few rare details about what Moscow calls its “special military operation.”

He rejected the need for a second wave of mobilization of conscripts to fight in Ukraine — a move deeply unpopular. He said there were about 617,000 Russian soldiers, including about 244,000 troops called up to fight alongside professional military forces.

“There will be peace when we achieve our goals,” Putin said, often repeating a Kremlin line. “Victory shall be ours.”

Putin touted Russian military successes in Ukraine as the second winter of the conflict approaches.

“Almost all of our armed forces along the line of communication, let’s put it modestly, are improving their positions, almost all of them are active, and there is an improvement in the position of our troops,” he said.

“The enemy has announced a major counterattack, but he has not achieved anything anywhere,” Putin added, adding that a recent Ukrainian attempt to build a bridgehead on the east bank of the Dnieper River also failed and Ukrainian troops suffered heavy losses.

He accused Kiev of sacrificing its troops to show its Western backers some success.

“I believe it’s stupid and irresponsible on behalf of the country’s political leadership, but that’s their business,” he said.

Putin, who has been in power for nearly 24 years, made the announcement last week Running for re-election, was greeted with applause when he arrived at the hall in central Moscow. He did not hold his traditional news conference last year as the Ukrainian army regained territory in the east and south following his army’s failure to retake Kiev.

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But with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky And forced to plead for American aid Amid an impasse Counter attack And Breaking Western support, He decided to meet the media once again – although the session was heavily choreographed and more spectacle than exploration.

Putin, who has largely limited his contacts with foreign media, faced questions from Western journalists for the first time since fighting in Ukraine began. Ordinary citizens had the opportunity to submit questions from journalists, and Russian state media said at least 2 million of them were sent ahead of time.

The news conference opened with questions about Ukraine and highlighted concerns some Russians have about another wave of mobilization.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to attend his annual news conference, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, in Moscow, Russia. (Aleksander Kazakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Putin said there was “no need” to mobilize now, as 1,500 men were being recruited every day. As of Wednesday evening, 486,000 soldiers had signed contracts with the Russian military, he said.

Putin’s comments about another wave of mobilization have been questioned by some independent Russian media, pointing to his promise not to create proxies for Ukraine and ordering a reversal of course. “Part” call.

The move, which he announced in September 2022, prompted thousands of Russians to flee the country.

He reiterated that Moscow’s goals in Ukraine – the “Nazification, demilitarization and neutralization” of Ukraine – would remain unchanged. He spelled out those loosely defined objectives on the day he sent troops to his neighbor in February 2022.

The claim of “de-Nazification” refers to Russia’s accusations that Ukraine’s government is heavily influenced by ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi groups — a charge derided by Kyiv and the West.

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Putin has demanded that Ukraine remain neutral and avoid joining NATO.

Putin’s last press conference in 2021 came amid US warnings that Russia was on the verge of sending troops into Ukraine. He delayed his annual State of the Union address Until February this year.

Relations between Russia and the United States have since hit a new low, with the conflict continuing and Moscow’s arrest of American journalist Ivan Gershkovich on a reporting trip to Russia in March.

Shortly before Putin spoke, a Russian court ordered Gershkovich, 32, Must be behind bars At least until January 30.

American citizen Paul Whelan is also a corporate security executive from Michigan Imprisoned in Russia Since his arrest in 2018 on espionage-related charges.

Recently Russia Turned down an offer To bring home Gershkovich and Whelan, who were reported to have been wrongfully detained by the US government.

“We don’t refuse to return them,” Putin said Thursday, adding that he wanted to reach an agreement but “it won’t be easy.”

He declined to go into the details of any exchange, but said Washington should “listen to us” and make an offer to appease Russia.

Putin appeared calm and composed during the news conference, although he often cleared his throat – blaming it on the air conditioning. His appearance is aimed primarily at a domestic audience and is an opportunity for him to personally engage in solving the problems of ordinary Russians and strengthen his authority ahead of the March 17 election.

Asked what sort of warning he would have given in today’s perspective when he began his first term in 2000, Putin said he would have warned against “naivety and overconfidence in our so-called partners.”

During a question about the cost of tolls, Putin said he takes notes and does the sums in a notebook.

He also received complaints from a group of children in Russia-annexed Crimea about leaking roofs and mold in their playground, and about rising egg prices to a woman who addressed him as “my favorite president.”

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“I regret it and apologize. It was a glitch in the government’s work,” Putin replied, blaming the government for not increasing imports quickly enough that egg production was not keeping up with demand.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, in Moscow, Russia.  (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Poole)

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Poole)

Although the news conference was heavily choreographed, some questions — which Putin did not answer — seemed to slip through the cracks, appearing on screens around the hall.

“Mr. President, when will the real Russia be on TV?” A text message clearly alludes to the Kremlin’s control over media that portray Putin in a positive light, explain the country’s problems and highlight its achievements.

Another read: “I want to know when our president will focus on his own country? We have no education, no healthcare. The ditch is ahead.

An artificial intelligence version of Putin asked if he was using a body double while speaking with his face and voice. Extreme speculation By some Kremlin watchers. Putin rejected the suggestion.

“Only one person has to look like me and speak with my voice – that person is going to be me,” he said, adding: “So, this is my first twin.”

Hours before Putin’s arrival, journalists lined up in freezing temperatures, and some wore traditional costumes, including elaborate hats, to catch his attention. Many journalists also held placards, prompting the Kremlin to limit their size.

Participants were tested for covid-19 and flu before entering the site. Putin implemented Strict quarantine for visitors During the Covid-19 pandemic.

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This story has been updated to correct that 244,000 is the number of troops called up for combat, not the total number of troops in Ukraine.

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Associated Press writers Emma Burrows in London and Dasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia contributed.

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