KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged Wednesday that his “special military operation” in Ukraine is taking longer than expected, but said it succeeded in capturing new territory and added that his country’s nuclear weapons are escalating. scare of the conflict.
“Of course it could be a long process,” Putin said of the more than 9-month-old war that began with the Russian invasion on February 24 and has driven millions from their homes and killed and injured tens of thousands. Despite his height, he showed no signs of giving up, vowing to “consistently fight for our interests” and to “protect ourselves by any means available”. He reiterated his claim that he had no choice but to send troops and said that for years the West responded to Russia’s security demands by “just spitting in the face”.
During a televised meeting in Russia with members of his Human Rights Council, Putin described the land gains as “an important achievement for Russia”, noting that the Sea of Azov “has become Russia’s inland sea”. In one of his frequent historical references to a Russian leader he admires, he added that “Peter the Great fought to gain access” to that water.
After not taking Kiev due to heavy Ukrainian resistance, Russia captured large parts of southern Ukraine at the start of the invasion and captured the main port of Mariupol in the Sea of Azov in May after a siege that lasted nearly three months. In September, Putin illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions, although his forces did not fully control them: Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south, and Donetsk and Luhansk in the east. In 2014, he had illegally annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
In response to an increasing influx of advanced Western weapons, economic, political and humanitarian aid to Kiev, and what he saw as inflammatory statements by Western leaders, Putin has periodically alluded to his possible use of nuclear weapons. When a member of the Human Rights Council asked him on Wednesday to promise that Russia would not be the first to use such weapons, Putin objected. He said Russia could not use nuclear weapons at all if it agreed not to use them first and then suffered a nuclear attack.
“If it does not use it first under any circumstances, it means that it will not be the second to use it either, because the possibility of using it in the event of a nuclear attack on our territory will be greatly limited,” said he. said.
Putin rejected Western criticism that his previous comments about nuclear weapons amounted to saber-rattling, claiming they were “not a factor causing an escalation of conflict, but a deterrent factor”.
“We haven’t gone crazy. We are fully aware of what nuclear weapons are,” Putin said. He added, without elaborating: “We have them, and they are more advanced and state-of-the-art than any other nuclear power.”
In his televised remarks, the Russian leader did not address Russia’s battlefield setbacks or his attempts to solidify control over the conquered regions, but acknowledged problems with supplies, treatment of wounded soldiers and limited desertions.
Russian troops have withdrawn not only from the Kiev area and around the country’s largest city, Kharkiv, but also from much of the Kherson region. Another problem for Putin is this week’s attacks on air bases deep in Russia. He recently placed much of the country, especially the border areas, on security alert and new signs emerged on Wednesday that Russian officials are strengthening defense positions on the border.
In the Kursk region, bordering Ukraine, the governor posted photos of new concrete anti-tank barriers – known as “dragon’s teeth” – in open fields. On Tuesday, the governor had said a fire had broken out at an airport in the region after a drone strike. In neighboring Belgorod, workers were expanding anti-tank barriers and officials were organizing “self-defense units.” Belgorod has seen numerous fires and explosions, apparently due to cross-border attacks, and the governor reported on Wednesday that Russian air defenses shot down incoming missiles.
Brutal drone strikes hit two strategic Russian air bases more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) from the border with Ukraine on Monday. Moscow blamed Ukraine, which failed to claim responsibility.
Moscow responded with attacks of artillery, multiple rocket launchers, rockets, tanks and mortars against residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, worsening damage to the power grid. Private Ukrainian energy company Ukrenergo said temperatures in eastern areas where it was making repairs had dropped to minus 17 degrees Celsius (almost zero Fahrenheit).
At his meeting, Putin discussed the mobilization of 300,000 reservists he ordered in September to bolster the armed forces in Ukraine. He said only about 150,000 have been deployed to combat zones so far and the rest are still being trained. Responding to speculation that the Kremlin could prepare another mobilization, Putin said: “The defense ministry and the country don’t have to.”
In other developments:
Ukraine’s presidential office said Russian forces struck nine regions in the east and south overnight and resumed the use of Iranian-made Shahed drones after supply problems. The Shahed drones, which first appeared in Ukraine in late August, were Moscow’s weapon of choice for causing blackouts. The British Ministry of Defense said last month that Russia was running out of drones but would likely look for replacements.
– In the city of Kherson, a 43-year-old employee of a water company was killed when Russian shelling started a fire and damaged residential buildings, the presidential office said. In the Donetsk region, Moscow is carrying out an offensive near Bakhmut and Avdiivka, targeting some 20 towns and villages, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said. Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy said four Kherson policemen were killed working on mines left behind by Russian troops as they retreated.
— The UN Human Rights Office documented 441 killings by Russian forces in three regions, including the city of Bucha, at the start of the war. The head of the UN monitoring mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, said it has no information that Russia is investigating or prosecuting alleged crimes in Ukraine, while Ukrainian authorities are struggling to do so due to the “massive amount of allegations and forensic challenges. ”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia appears to be slowing down its military activities in Ukraine for the winter in order to regroup and launch a new offensive when the weather warms. Stoltenberg said at a Financial Times event that it is important for NATO and its partners to continue supporting Ukraine, especially if there is no sign of peace talks.
– An Orthodox priest from eastern Ukraine has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for passing on military information to Russian troops, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reported. Authorities have searched sites related to the Russian-backed wing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
– Ukraine’s top diplomat said his diplomatic missions have faced attacks in the past week, with more than 30 suspicious packages, including some containing animal parts, sent to embassies and consulates in 15 countries. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said deliveries have taken place in Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Denmark, as well as a consulate in the Polish city of Gdańsk.
Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Joanna Kozlowska in London and Andrew Katell in New York contributed.
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