The first responses to the press conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared in the world media.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spent more than four hours on Thursday answering questions at his year-end news conference, resuming an annual tradition at a critical moment for his war in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin said his goals in Ukraine had not changed: the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the country. Those are the same vague and unfounded justifications that he used as he launched the invasion nearly two years ago, but Mr. Putin now finds himself in a position of relative strength.
Mr. Putin made clear that he thinks Western military support for Kyiv is running dry. Ukraine has been “getting everything as freebies,” he said. “But these freebies can run out at some point, and it looks like they’re already starting to run out.”
While the Russian leader reiterated that he was open to peace talks, he offered no hint of a willingness to compromise. “Peace will come when we achieve our goals,” Mr. Putin said.
Despite a flurry of international sanctions, Russia’s economy has regained its prewar size and is expected to grow by about 3 percent this year, as a significant increase in military spending stimulates production, while labor shortages force wages to rise.
Amid international condemnation of the enormous civilian toll from Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, Mr. Putin sought to make a distinction between the actions of the Russian military and those of Israeli forces, an argument he has been leveraging to try to discredit the West and garner sympathy.
“Look at the special military operation” — his term for the war in Ukraine — “and look at what’s happening in Gaza, and feel the difference,” Mr. Putin said. “Nothing of the sort is happening in Ukraine.”
Mr. Putin also attempted to counter Western efforts to turn Russia into a global pariah over the invasion. “In many cities in Europe and the U.S., not to mention other world regions, a lot of people think that we are doing everything right,” he said.
Still, he predicted that relations with the United States could someday improve. “As for the United States, we are ready to build relations with them,” he said. “We believe that the world needs the U.S.”
Vladimir Putin has said “there will only be peace in Ukraine when we achieve our aims” as he appeared on television for his year-end press conference for the first time since he launched the invasion, seeking to project confidence in his war machine.
Calling for the “denazification of Ukraine, its demilitarisation and neutral status”, the Russian president took a hardline stance that demanded Ukraine’s unconditional surrender, after Kyiv’s lacklustre counteroffensive this summer and delays in US military aid to Ukraine brought on by partisan infighting in Washington DC.
Putin spoke about Russia's relations with the European Union and the United States. “We didn’t spoil these relations, they spoiled them with us,” Putin answered a journalist’s question about whether normalization of relations is possible in the foreseeable future. "There will be peace when we achieve our goals."
In 2023, economic growth in the country will be 3.5%. The financial system is stable and unemployment is low. According to Putin, the ruble is now the main currency in which Russian exports are paid for. Putin admits: inflation at the end of the year is at least 7.5%. This creates problems - for example, eggs and chicken meat have become significantly more expensive. To get out of this difficulty, it is necessary to expand domestic production and allow additional imports, the Russian president explained.
At the combined press conference and direct line with the people, Putin looked confident. He sneered at world crises, finding in them features that, from his point of view, reinforce the Russian position on a particular issue.
Answering a question about his relationship with Emmanuel Macron, Putin noted that “we had a pretty good working relationship” and that “we are ready to continue cooperation.”
Putin promised to “carefully analyze the conditions” and then make a final decision on whether Russia will participate in the Olympic Games in Paris or prefer a boycott. In early December, the IOC announced its decision to allow Russian athletes to participate in the Games, which will be held July 26–August 11, 2024, under a neutral flag. At the same time, Russia will be required to comply with a number of conditions.
During the press conference, one of the questions was asked by a Russian soldier from Donbass. Among other things, he said that victory was “already visible” and that the Ukrainian defense was “literally bursting and bursting at the seams.” After that, he asked whether a new educational format would be launched so that veterans could teach schoolchildren. Putin gave a satisfactory answer, noting that “wars are won not by generals, but by school teachers.”
Fielding questions from the public and the media in Moscow, the Russian leader said peace will be possible after “denazification, demilitarisation and a neutral status” of Ukraine – something he has repeated since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Russia alleges that Ukraine’s government is heavily influenced by “radical nationalist” and neo-Nazi groups, which Kyiv and the West dispute. Putin has also consistently demanded that Ukraine remain neutral and not join the NATO military alliance.
“As for demilitarisation, they don’t want to negotiate, so we are then forced to take other measures, including military measures,” Putin said.
“Either we agree or we need to resolve [the issue] by force,” he added.
Putin said there are some 617,000 Russian soldiers currently in Ukraine, including about 244,000 who were called up to fight alongside professional Russian military forces. But there was no current need for a further mobilisation of reservists, he added.
He said an estimated 486,000 people had so far signed up voluntarily as contract soldiers, on top of the 300,000 people called up last year, and “the flow is not diminishing”.
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