Putin: “Odessa is a Russian city”

11:13 20.12.2023 •

Photo: Kremlin.ru

At the year-end news conference lasting four hours, Russian President Vladimir Putin made some key remarks on the conflict in Ukraine which throw light on the likely trajectory of the war through 2024. To be sure, Russia will not accept a “frozen conflict” that falls short of realising the objectives Putin had laid out at the commencement of the special military operations in February last year, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.

Putin stated: “There will be peace when we achieve our goals… Now let’s return to these goals – they have not changed. I would like to remind you how we formulated them: denazification, demilitarisation, and a neutral status for Ukraine.”

He spelt out denazification and demilitarisation as work in progress while leaving out the crucial question of a neutral status for Ukraine, a notion which the collective West outright rejects while pressing ahead with its intervention in newer forms despite the failure of Kyiv’s months-long counteroffensive.

On denazification specifically, Putin said that during the negotiations in Istanbul last year in March, Kyiv showed receptiveness towards the idea of legislating against the spread of extremist ideology, but that lies buried in the past. As for demilitarisation, that idea also never caught on as Ukraine began receiving weaponry “even more than what was promised by the West.”

Therefore, Russia is left with no other option but to keep destroying the Ukrainian military capability as the core of the demilitarisation process.

These remarks bear the hallmark of a statesman speaking from a position of strength who is conscious of it, too. Putin asserted that Russian forces are “improving their position almost along the entire line of contact. Almost all of them are engaged in active combat. And the position of our troops is improving along [the entire line of contact.]” Putin conveyed no willingness to compromise with the US and EU.

Significantly, Putin said that the southern part of Ukraine has “always been Russian territory… Neither Crimea nor the Black Sea has any connection to Ukraine. Odessa is a Russian city.” This is a statement implying that Russian operation may after all extend to Odessa which is on the western side of the Dnieper and even further westward along the Black Sea coast to Moldova that renders Ukraine a land-locked country.

On the contrary, the reports from the US media quoting American officials convey the impression that there is no willingness to throw in the towel at the present stage. That is of course predicated on the belief that Russia will be hard put to realise its objectives and by the end of 2024, the tide of war can change and Russia may be compelled to compromise. Thus, a new strategy is being worked out between the US and Ukrainian military that can be executed by the early part of 2024 with the American accent on holding the territory that Ukraine controls as of now and digging in.

The New York Times reported that Ukrainian military subscribes to a “forward policy.” The Pentagon is stationing a three-star general in Kyiv with a view to “stepping up the face-to-face military advice it provides to Ukraine.” This could be the beginning of deployment of American military advisors to Ukraine to oversee the war, which will put the Pentagon in a direct role in the management of the operations from both the tactical as well as strategic perspectives.

All in all, Putin’s tough remarks factors in that the US isn’t going anywhere but stays put in Ukraine and the Biden administration’s game plan is to revamp the war strategy to put it on a stronger footing and make it sustainable through the period ahead till the November 2024 election.

Between now and the presidential election in March in Russia, domestic politics will be hotting up. After Putin’s re-election for a fresh 6-year term as president, which is widely expected, by the time the new government is formed, the campaign for the US election will have accelerated and it is a safe bet that Ukraine war will be on auto-pilot with the priority almost entirely lying on averting any serious embarrassment to Biden’s reelection bid.

Suffice to say, staving off a military defeat in Ukraine and keeping the stalemate on track will be the Biden administration’s singular aim through 2024. The big question is whether Putin would “cooperate” or have some surprises in store, M.K. Bhadrakumar notes.


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