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Putin Tells Russians War In Ukraine To Continue, Goals Remain The Same

President Vladimir Putin showed no signs of relenting in his war against Ukraine, telling Russians in his annual press conference and call-in event on December 14 that his goals remained the same and peace will come when they are achieved.

Taking questions for just over four hours from a mix of journalists, the public, soldiers, and even an AI-generated version of himself, Putin, who last week announced he’s running for a fifth term as president in a March election, took questions on a wide range of topics, from Russia’s war against Ukraine, to Americans in Russian custody, to the price of eggs.

With the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine now in its 22nd month, Putin said Russia’s core goals for the conflict remain the “de-Nazification” and “de-militarization” of Ukraine, while securing its neutrality.

“There will be peace when we achieve our goals,” the 71-year-old Russian leader said of the war, which the government has legislated must be called a “special military operation.”

“As for de-militarization, if they (the Ukrainians) don’t want to come to an agreement — well, then we are forced to take other measures, including military ones…. Either we get an agreement, agree on certain parameters [on the size and strength of Ukraine’s military]… or we resolve this by force. This is what we will strive for.”

Since the outset of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Putin has said the goal of the operation is the “demilitarization and de-Nazification” of Ukraine, terms that Kremlin officials have used to falsely assert that the government in Kyiv is controlled by Nazi sympathizers even though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Putin made the long-anticipated announcement to run for reelection on December 8 following a ceremony in the Kremlin, where he awarded soldiers who fought in the war in Ukraine with Russia’s highest military honor, the Hero of Russia Gold Star.

Russian elections are tightly controlled by the Kremlin and are neither free nor fair but are viewed by the government as necessary to convey a sense of legitimacy. They are mangled by exclusion of opposition candidates, voter intimidation, ballot stuffing, and other means of manipulation.

Putin became eligible to take part in Russia’s next two presidential elections after he rammed through constitutional changes in 2020 that paved the way for him to remain in office until 2036.

He has been prime minister or president since 1999, slashing democratic norms and freedoms with every new term. If he serves another full term, he would surpass the nearly 30-year reign of Josef Stalin and become Russia’s longest-serving leader since Catherine the Great (1762-1796).

He is unlikely to face any challenge in the race with his two main rivals — Aleksei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza — both in prison serving lengthy sentences and dissent in general stifled through legislation.

The invasion of Ukraine, now in its 22nd month, has been a disaster for Russia, taking the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers, upending the economy, and ruining relations with the West. Putin has outlawed criticism of the war and the armed forces to crush any opposition.

Putin said during the December 14 event, which has previously lasted several hours, that a further wave of military mobilization is not needed at the moment, as “the flow of men ready to defend our homeland with arms in hand is not decreasing.”

Some 300,000 Russians were mobilized to the military last year and Putin said there are currently around 617,000 Russian soldiers fighting in the war.

Russian state media said more than 2 million questions were submitted by ordinary citizens for the news conference, which also included the presence of Western journalists, the first time since the Ukraine invasion that Putin was face to face with international reporters asking questions.

None of the questions challenged Putin on issues such as the war’s death toll — estimated at more than 300,000 Russians, his brutal crackdown on dissent and opposition voices such as Aleksei Navalny, or what another Putin term in office would look like.

Still, amid plummeting relations with the United States, Putin took a question from a New York Times reporter about talks with Washington over the fate of two Americans — Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and/or U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan — currently in Russian custody.

Putin flippantly asked if Gershkovich was “the Australian” in question before saying there has been dialogue between the two sides on prisoner swaps but the situation was “complicated” and a decision “must be one that will mutually satisfy all sides.”

He didn’t mention any other Americans currently being held by Russia, among them Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) veteran journalist Alsu Kurmasheva.

On the economy, which has been fueled by state spending on the military-industrial complex, Putin played up growth, which he said would top 3.5 percent annually this year despite unprecedented international sanctions from the West and its allies over the Ukraine invasion.

In one area of economic concern, inflation, Putin even offered a rare apology, saying the government had failed to keep prices — especially for eggs — in check. He then promised that “the situation will be corrected in the near future.”

In a lighter moment, near the end of the event Putin was confronted with a question from an AI-generated version of himself asking about the threat artificial intelligence posed to the country.

Putin didn’t answer the question directly, instead making light of persistent rumors he uses body doubles as a security precaution.

“This is my first body double, by the way,” he said before going on to say that “only one person should look like me and speak in my voice. And that person will be myself.”

Source : RFERL