Russian leader’s comments on state TV channel follow first anniversary of invasion of Ukraine
Vladimir Putin has accused the west of seeking to “dismember” Russia and and to turn the vast country into a series of weak mini-states.
In an interview with the state TV channel Rossiya on Sunday, Putin claimed the US and its Nato allies wanted to “inflict a strategic defeat on us”. The aim, he said, was to “make our people suffer”, adding: “How can we ignore their nuclear capabilities in these conditions?”
Russia’s president said this alleged plot had been under way since the collapse of the USSR. “They tried to reshape the world exclusively on their terms. We had no choice but to react,” he said, adding that the west was complicit in Ukraine’s “crimes”.
If Washington got its way, Russia would be divided into Moscow, the Urals, and other disparate regions, he said, claiming there was “written proof” for his assertion.
Putin’s comments follow the first anniversary on Friday of Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine. They are part of an apparent attempt to boost popular support for Moscow’s war of choice by recasting it as a necessary and defensive struggle for Russia’s national survival reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s battle against the Nazis.
The remarks come at a time when Russian troops have made local gains in Ukraine’s east but have failed to achieve a major breakthrough. Moscow’s military focus is to capture the entirety of the Donbas region, much of which remains under Kyiv’s control.
Russian tactical groups have partially encircled the city of the Bakhmut, where fighting had raged for months. They were reportedly pressing from the north and south. The only road into the centre – a key Ukrainian supply route – is under Russian artillery fire.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military dismissed claims by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group that it had captured Yahidne, a village on Bakhmut’s northern outskirts. It said intense fighting was going on across the whole frontline.
On Saturday the founder of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said his forces had taken Yahidne and the nearby village of Berkhivka. The latest Ukrainian update cited “unsuccessful” Russian offensives in the two settlements and four others. All were subject to heavy shelling, it said.
Unconfirmed reports on the Telegram channel suggested Ukrainian brigades had flooded the path of a Russian advance by blowing up a dam near Bakhmut. The Ukrainian army command used similar tactics last spring as part of its successful defence of Kyiv.
Ukraine’s military strategy is to hold the line in the Donbas region and to launch a counteroffensive once more western military hardware arrives, by late spring. The most likely direction is towards the occupied southern city of Melitopol and Crimea.
In his latest message Volodymyr Zelenskiy reaffirmed his commitment to evict Russia from all Ukrainian territory it has stolen including Crimea. Putin annexed the peninsula nine years ago on Sunday using undercover special units nicknamed “little green men”.
Zelenskiy posted old photos of a pro-Ukrainian demonstration outside Crimea’s regional parliament in the now occupied city of Simferopol. Many of those who attended the rally were Tatars, Crimea’s original Muslim Turkic inhabitants, persecuted by Russia and its spy agencies since 2014, and previously by Stalin.
“Nine years ago, Russian aggression began in Crimea,” Zelenskiy wrote. “By returning Crimea, we will restore peace. This is our land. Our people. Our history. We will return the Ukrainian flag to every corner of Ukraine.”
He added: “Qırım serbest olacaq!” – “I will be free!” in the Tatar language.
It is unclear whether Ukraine’s western partners will support a large-scale Ukrainian military operation to seize back Crimea. There are unanswered questions, too, as to how Kyiv might reintegrate the area. Many pro-Ukrainian residents fled in 2014. Since then about 600,000 Russians have arrived.
On Sunday Germany’s defence minister, Boris Pistorius, said he was increasingly sympathetic to the idea Crimea should be returned. “I am leaning towards saying, yes, Crimea is Ukrainian territory and it therefore has to be given back,” he said in an interview. “But again: this is not a decision that’s up to us to take.”
Pistorius said it was for Kyiv to choose when and under what conditions it would hold talks with Moscow. Zelenskiy has welcomed some aspects of a peace plan floated last week by China. But he has said no negotiations can take place until Russian troops get out fully from Ukraine.
Western leaders are sceptical over the proposal, and argue that Beijing does not have the international credibility to act as a mediator. Credible or not, China’s initiative may explain why in recent days Russia has launched no ballistic missile attacks on Kyiv, with the capital eerily quiet.
Speaking to ABC News, the US president, Joe Biden, dismissed Beijing’s plan. “I’ve seen nothing [that] would indicate there’s something that would be beneficial to anyone other than Russia,” he said. “The idea that China is gonna be negotiating the outcome of a war that’s a totally unjust war for Ukraine is just not rational.”
There have been unconfirmed reports that China is on the brink of supplying Moscow with kamikaze drones. Since October Russia has used Iranian-supplied drones to carry out regular attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
On Sunday the White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said no lethal aid from China had reached Russia. He suggested any such move would have serious consequences.
“Beijing will have to make its own decisions about how it proceeds, whether it provides military assistance, but if it goes down that road, it will come at real costs to China,” Sullivan told CNN.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN