Putin mixes threats of new offensive in Ukraine with offers of peace talks
Jun 13, 2023, 9:12 PM
(Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday alternated threats of a new Russian offensive to grab more Ukrainian land with statements about the Kremlin’s readiness for peace talks.
Speaking during a far-ranging meeting with Russian military correspondents and war bloggers, he made some of the most extensive comments about the conflict and his goals since sending the troops into Ukraine more than 15 months ago.
Here is a quick look at some of Putin’s key statements:
Putin asserted that Ukraine has suffered “catastrophic” losses in its counteroffensive.
He said Ukrainian troops amassed reserves to launch the “large-scale” operation on June 4, but he claimed that the effort has failed to score gains and that Ukraine has lost 10 times more soldiers than Russia. His claims could not be verified.
Putin declared that Ukraine lost 160 battle tanks and over 300 other armored vehicles, while Russia only lost 54 tanks. He alleged that the Ukrainian armor losses represented 25% to 30% of the number of Western armored vehicles supplied to Ukraine.
He noted with a smirk that German-made Leopard battle tanks and U.S.-made Bradley infantry fighting vehicles “are burning really well,” adding that leaders in Kyiv must now realize the disastrous consequences of the counteroffensive.
PONDERING NEW LAND GAINS
Putin said Moscow could respond to alleged Ukrainian incursions and shelling of Russia’s border regions by carving out what he described as a “sanitary zone” to prevent Kyiv from launching such attacks.
The zone would extend “to a depth that would prevent it from striking our territory,” he added.
Asked how deep into Ukraine Russia could go, Putin responded coyly, saying that “everything will depend on potentials that emerge after the so-called counteroffensive.”
“We will look at the situation and decide on our next moves,” he said. “We have various plans depending on the situation.”
He mentioned that Russian troops “already were near Kyiv,” a reference to a botched attempt by the Kremlin to capture the Ukrainian capital in the opening weeks of the conflict.
Russian troops retreated from areas around Kyiv and other regions in Ukraine’s northeast in March 2022, and in the fall they hastily pulled out from broad swaths of the Kharkiv region under the brunt of a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“Should we come back there or not?” Putin said, adding cryptically: “Only I could give an answer.”
THE KAKHOVKA DAM DESTRUCTION
Putin again blamed Ukraine for the destruction of the Kakhovka dam that caused a catastrophic flooding, saying that Ukrainian forces had repeatedly shelled the dam with HIMARS rockets and then apparently used explosives to destroy it.
He argued that Russia had no reason to destroy the dam. “We are certainly not interested in that because it has entailed grave consequences for the territories we control,” he said.
Putin dismissed the Ukrainian argument that Moscow blew up the dam to thwart Kyiv’s counteroffensive, saying that Russia would have been happy to see Ukraine try to launch an attack in that sector because of daunting odds.
The Russian leader said ending the hostilities in Ukraine depends on the United States. He argued that the fighting would end immediately if the U.S. and NATO stop providing Ukraine with weapons.
“If they want to see a negotiated solution to the conflict, it’s enough for them to stop weapons supplies,” he said.
Putin said Russian and Ukrainian negotiators drafted a peace agreement in March 2022, but Kyiv spiked the deal under Western pressure. He said Russia is still open to resuming talks.
He said the U.S. wants to see Russia defeated and was pinning its hopes on the Ukrainian counteroffensive. At the same time, Putin argued that in the U.S. administration “there are many reasonable people who don’t want to take it all the way to World War III in which there will be no winners.”
Putin, who ordered the mobilization of 300,000 reservists last fall as Russia faced a Ukrainian counteroffensive, would not rule out a new wave of mobilization, saying it will depend on the evolving military situation.
He emphasized, however, that there is no need for it now. Putin noted that the military has recruited 156,000 volunteer soldiers so far this year, making it unnecessary to round up additional reservists.
He also noted that he sees no need for the introduction of martial law that has been suggested by some Russian hawks.
Putin pointed out that Russia’s military industries have sharply ramped up production. He said the output of Russian defense industries has increased 2.7 times in the past year, and in some key sectors it has increased tenfold.
Putin said Moscow was considering ending its participation in the deal to allow exports of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports.
Putin charged that Western countries have failed to fulfill their promises to facilitate exports of Russian agricultural products by removing restrictions on shipping, insurance and banking operations that were part of the agreement brokered by Turkey and the U.N. in July 2022.
He claimed that Ukraine also has used the sea corridor created under the deal for commercial ships to launch drones to attack Russian navy ships.
Putin argued that Russia signed the deal and extended it several times for the sake of helping some of the world’s poorest countries.
If Moscow decides to opt out of the agreement, he noted, it would freely supply those countries with the same amount of grain that would have been delivered by Ukraine under the deal. He said he planned to discuss the plans with leaders of several African countries who are set to visit the Russian capital soon.