Vladimir Putin has insisted that his bloody campaign in Ukraine will continue until its “noble” goals have been achieved, arguing that the invasion was proceeding as planned, despite fierce Ukrainian resistance and heavy losses among Russian forces.
“We will achieve our objectives, there are no doubts,” Putin told workers at the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia’s far east, in his first public comments on the war since his forces were forced to retreat from northern Ukraine more than a week ago.
“Its goals are absolutely clear and noble,” Putin said of Russia’s military campaign while standing alongside his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, during a visit to mark the 61st anniversary of the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s first human space flight.
It was only his second public appearance in a week, after a brief appearance at the funeral of the ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, where he made no direct mention of the war. His recent low profile of him has marked a stark change for a leader who was ubiquitous on Russian television in the early days of the war.
Speaking later at a televised news conference, Putin dismissed Ukrainian testimony that Russian troops had executed civilians in Bucha, comparing the killings to what he claimed were western staged chemical weapons attacks in Syria aimed at incriminating Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad.
“It’s the same kind of fake in Bucha,” Putin said.
It was not clear whether Putin meant that the images of dead civilians in Bucha were staged or that the civilians had been killed by Ukrainians, two contradicting versions that have been heavily promoted by Russian officials and state media.
Ukraine has accused the Russian military of executing civilians in Bucha, a town outside the capital, Kyiv, that Russian troops occupied for several weeks before withdrawing. Western countries are working with Ukraine in a joint investigation to gather evidence of possible Russian war crimes.
Lukashenko described the atrocities of Bucha as a “British special operation”, without citing evidence.
“If you need addresses, passwords, car numbers, car brands on which they arrived in Bucha and how they did it, the FSB [spy agency] of the Russian Federation can provide this information. If not, we can help with that,” said the Belarussian leader, who has previously claimed that Ukraine was planning to invade his country.
Putin also said sanctions imposed on his country would not have their desired effect, drawing an analogy between Russia’s situation today and that of the Soviet Union in 1961, when Gagarin became the first man in space. “The sanctions were total, the isolation was complete, but the Soviet Union was still first in space,” Putin said.
“The blitzkrieg which our foes were counting on did not work,” Putin added, referring to the unprecedented western imposed after the invasion of Ukraine.
At times the Russian leader appeared to ramble or stammer, in stark contrast to the icy, confident demeanor that he normally displays.
A recurring theme in Putin’s remarks on Tuesday was that war with Ukraine, which will soon enter its third month, had been “inevitable”.
“We were forced to this… Ukraine began to turn into an anti-Russian foothold. They began to grow sprouts of nationalism and neo-nazism … And a clash with these forces was inevitable for Russia,” Putin said. “They were just picking a time for an attack… It was inevitable, it was only a matter of time.” He added that the invasion, which has so far cost tens of thousands of lives and driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, was “the right thing to do”.
Sam Green, a professor in Russian politics and the director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London, said that from the start of the crisis Putin had framed Russia’s actions in Ukraine as an “existential threat”.
“This whole war has been built around the rhetoric that Russia has been under an existential threat. That this war was forced upon Russia. While goals and objectives might shift throughout this war, Putin simply can’t abandon this type of existential rhetoric,” he said.
Green said this rhetoric appeared to have caught on in Russia, pointing to the genuine support the war seemed to have among swaths of the population. “Putin wants to make sure there isn’t a single doubt left why it is waged and why all the pain and sacrifices are justified.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism