Vladimir Putin says Russia’s war in Ukraine could be ‘long-term process’

Vladimir Putin has admitted Russia’s war in Ukraine could turn into a “long-term process” as he sought to defend an invasion in which Russian troops have been forced to retreat and even airbases deep inside Russia have come under attack.

Speaking to members of his personal human rights council on Wednesday, Putin claimed that Russia would not use nuclear weapons first in any conflict, denied that Russian troops were deserting en masse from the field of battle, and claimed he would not need to mobilise more troops, a process that has caused considerable upheaval in Russia.

But mainly the Russian president defended the “special military operation” – his preferred term for what he openly admitted was a Russian war of conquest that he compared with the territorial ambitions of former Russian tsars.

“As for the slow process of the special military operation, then, of course, it can be a long-term process,” Putin said. “But then you mentioned that new territories had appeared. This is such a significant result for Russia … The Azov Sea has become an internal Russian sea. Even Peter I had fought for access to the Azov Sea.”

Russia has been forced to abandon some of those “annexed” territories, notably fleeing the city of Kherson last month due to a sweeping Ukrainian counterattack. Russia now shells the city of Kherson regularly from the other side of the Dnipro River, in effect attacking what it considers its own territory.

The foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, defended that tactic last week by saying the Russians had also shelled Stalingrad during the second world war. In his remarks on Wednesday, Putin denied his administration was planning for another round of mass mobilisation. He claimed that of 300,000 mobilised Russians, just half had been sent into the conflict zone, while the others were still at training ranges.

“In these conditions, any talk about additional mobilisation proceedings simply doesn’t make sense. The state and the defence ministries simply don’t need this at present,” he said. The previous round of mobilisation, announced in mid-September, had been preceded by official denials as well.

Putin also denied the Russian army had suffered from mass desertions in Ukraine fuelled by poor conditions and low morale. That followed reports from independent Russian media about secret prison camps in Russian-occupied Donbas where dozens of soldiers who had refused to fight were being held in abysmal conditions.

“Are there guys who deserted their combat posts? Yes, it happened … less and less now,” he said. “I repeat once again that no cases of such nature [desertions] have a mass character.”

Putin dedicated some of his remarks to questions about the potential for nuclear war, which he said was growing more likely due to the conflict with the west.

“This threat is increasing, I can’t deny it,” Putin said in response to a question, adding that Russia would not use those weapons first.

“We have not gone crazy, we are aware of what nuclear weapons are. We have these means, and they are more advanced and more modern than those of any other nuclear country. As of today, this is an obvious fact.

“We are not going to wave these weapons around like a razor, running around the world, but of course we act with the understanding that they exist.”

“In these conditions, any talk about additional mobilisation proceedings simply doesn’t make sense. The state and the defence ministries simply don’t need this at present,” he said. The previous round of mobilisation, announced in mid-September, had been preceded by official denials as well.

Putin also denied the Russian army had suffered from mass desertions in Ukraine fuelled by poor conditions and low morale. That followed reports from independent Russian media about secret prison camps in Russian-occupied Donbas where dozens of soldiers who had refused to fight were being held in abysmal conditions.

“Are there guys who deserted their combat posts? Yes, it happened … less and less now,” he said. “I repeat once again that no cases of such nature [desertions] have a mass character.”

 

 

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