Just one week after declaring his intention to remain in the Kremlin until at least 2030, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised “victory” in Ukraine on Thursday during an optimistic press conference.
Encouraged by his experiences on the battlefield and war weariness in the West, the 71-year-old appeared at ease as he dismissed almost two years of international sanctions and restated his maximalist objectives for Ukraine.
He declared, “I am sure that victory will be ours,” in his first year-end media appearance following Russia’s shocking military incursion into Ukraine in February 2022.
He stated that the military was “improving their position on almost the entire line of contact” in Ukraine.
His four-hour appearance coincided with one of Kyiv’s lowest points in the conflict, which has destroyed entire cities in the south and east of Ukraine and claimed tens of thousands of lives.With little progress made during its summer counteroffensive, Ukraine is losing Western support as a result of internal conflicts within the EU and political squabbling in Washington.Putin seemed to draw attention to these, emphasizing that Russia’s economy and morale had not been negatively impacted by nearly two years of international isolation and Western sanctions.
Turning tide of Putin
In the grand Moscow hall, where hundreds of journalists had to pass four police checkpoints in order to hear Putin speak, the echoes of Russia’s military operation could still be heard.
Only hours before event was scheduled to begin, Russia claimed to have shot down nine Ukrainian drones that were en route to Moscow.
As Putin’s event came to a close, AFP reporters in Kyiv heard explosions going off and air raid sirens.
In an attack that left 11 people injured earlier on Thursday, Ukraine claimed to have shot down all but one of the 42 drones aimed at Odesa.
Last year, as Moscow reeled from military setbacks and Ukraine managed to repel the Kremlin’s initial assault on Kyiv and then reclaim territory in the east and south, choreographed call-in show was canceled. Many in Moscow had anticipated that Kyiv would fall within a few days, so their surprise at Ukraine’s resolute resistance and the support of its allies came as a shock to observers worldwide.
However, nearly two years into his campaign, He seems to be sensing that things are starting to work in his favor. On Thursday, he reiterated the military goals he set forth at the beginning of his campaign, saying that Kyiv needed “de-nazification and de-militarization,” along with continued neutrality.
Putin’s conference coincided with a crucial summit in Brussels during which Ukraine had hoped to secure a clear path to EU membership.
But that drive has been hampered by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a Putin ally who stands firmly against Ukraine’s EU ambitions.
Orban reaffirmed that position before the start of talks in Brussels Thursday, telling reporters Kyiv had not yet met the “merit-based” criteria to join the bloc.
In response, Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, said that “now is not the time for half-measures or hesitation” and predicted that Putin would attempt to take advantage of the failure of the Brussels summit.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg backed Zelensky and cautioned Putin that if Western military backing for Kyiv wanes, he may launch attacks against other nations.
“If Putin wins in Ukraine, there is real risk that his aggression will not end there,” Stoltenberg stated.
“Our support is not charity — it is an investment in our security.”
‘Hopes’ for detained Americans
Zelensky’s visit to Washington this week, where he was unable to overcome Republican resistance in Congress to the approval of a new $60 billion aid package, served to bolster Putin even more.
Putin mentioned oil sales this month in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which allows Moscow to continue funding its military endeavors.
In response to domestic concerns, Putin attempted to downplay the possibility of a second military conscription after a call-up in September 2022 caused demonstrations and a large-scale male exodus.
Declaring that he would run for office again in March, he stated that Russia currently had “617,000 people in the conflict zone”.
“To date, there is no need for a new mobilisation,” he stated.
Putin claimed that “dialogue” had been held regarding Gershkovich and another American in custody, businessman and former Marine Paul Whelan.
“I hope we will find a solution,” Putin said in response to a query concerning the viability of a prisoner exchange.
He did, however, add that Washington “should also listen to us and make a decision that will suit the Russian Federation.”
On Tuesday, Washington announced that Russia had turned down a fresh offer to release the two men.