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Putin Vows ‘Victory’ in Ukraine During Annual Press Conference

Bolstered by Kyiv’s battlefield struggles and war fatigue in the West, the 71-year-old looked relaxed as he brushed off nearly two years of international sanctions and reaffirmed his maximalist goals in Ukraine.

“I am sure that victory will be ours,” Putin said during his first end-of-year media appearance since Russia shocked the world by sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Russian forces were “improving their position on almost the entire line of contact” in Ukraine, Putin said.

His four-hour appearance came at one of the lowest points for Kyiv in the conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and erased entire cities across Ukraine’s south and east.

Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive petered out without making much progress and its Western support is fraying amid political wrangling in Washington and frictions within the European Union.

Putin appeared to point to these, stressing that nearly two years of Western sanctions and international isolation had done little to hurt Russia’s economy or morale.

“There is enough for us not only to feel confident, but to move forward,” Putin said.

Turning tide 

The echoes of Russia’s military operation reverberated in the grand Moscow hall where hundreds of journalists passed four police checkpoints to hear Putin speak.

Russia said it had downed nine Ukrainian drones heading for Moscow just hours before Putin’s event was set to kick off.

In Kyiv, AFP reporters heard air raid sirens and explosions going off in the Ukrainian capital as Putin’s event drew to a close.

Earlier Thursday, Ukraine said had shot down all but one of the 42 Russian drones targeting Odesa, in a barrage that wounded 11 people.

Putin’s choreographed call-in show was cancelled last year as Moscow reeled from military failures, with Ukraine managing to repel the Kremlin’s initial assault on Kyiv and then regaining territory in the east and south.

Ukraine’s strong resistance and support from its allies had surprised observers around the world and in Moscow, where many had expected to take Kyiv in a few days.

But almost two years into his offensive, Putin appears to be sensing the tide turning in his favour.

He reaffirmed the same military objectives Thursday as he did when launching his campaign, insisting that Kyiv required “de-nazification and de-militarisation”, as well as future neutrality.

European cracks 

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.

“There is no reason to discuss anything because preconditions were not met,” Orban said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky countered that Putin would try to exploit the Brussels summit’s failure, arguing that “now is not the time for half-measures or hesitation”. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg supported Zelensky, warning Putin could attack other countries if Western military support for Kyiv fades.

“If Putin wins in Ukraine, there is real risk that his aggression will not end there,” Stoltenberg said.

“Our support is not charity — it is an investment in our security.”

‘Hopes’ for detained Americans 

Putin was further bolstered by Zelensky’s visit this week to Washington, where he failed to overcome Republican opposition in Congress to approving a new $60-billion aid package.

Moscow, is still able to sustain its military effort through oil sales, which Putin discussed this month in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.  

Addressing worries at home, Putin sought to play down the idea of another military draft, after a September 2022 call-up led to protests and a mass exodus of men. 

Having confirmed plans to seek another term in March, he said Russia already had “617,000 people in the conflict zone”.

“To date, there is no need for a new mobilisation,” he said. 

Opposition to Putin has been muzzled by an intensifying crackdown on dissent and on the media, which has also affected the Western press.

Wall Street Journal Moscow correspondent Evan Gershkovich has been in detention in Russia since March on spy charges that he and his employer denies. 

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Putin said there was “dialogue” with the United States on Gershkovich and another detained American, former Marine and businessman Paul Whelan. 

“I hope we will find a solution,” Putin said, responding to a question about a possible prisoner swap.

But Washington “should also hear us and make a decision that will suit the Russian Federation”, he said. 

Washington said Tuesday that Russia had rejected a new proposal to free both men.

Source : France24