- Putin: Conditions ‘difficult’ in Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine
- Zelenskiy visits frontline Bagmut, praises ‘superhuman’ troops
- Putin warns of new threats from abroad and traitors at home
- Intelligence surveillance should be increased and borders should be secured
KYIV, Dec 20 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin acknowledged on Tuesday that conditions were “very difficult” in Russian-held areas of Ukraine, and Ukraine’s leader visited a defunct frontline city long uncaptured by Moscow to reveal Russia’s faltering war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Dzhegansky said he made the surprise trip to rally Kyiv’s “superhuman” troops in Bagmut, so rife with constant Russian shelling and brutal fighting it’s nicknamed the “meat grinder.”
Zelenskiy arrived in the eastern city shortly after Putin said Russia’s security services needed to significantly improve their work, one of his clearest public acknowledgments that he would not plan an invasion that began nearly 10 months ago.
Putin’s speech followed a visit to Belarus, a close ally that the Kremlin dismissed as potentially helping Russia open a new offensive front against Russia’s fellow ex-Soviet republic against war-torn Ukraine hundreds of miles (km) to the east. and in the south of the country.
The most destructive fighting in recent weeks has been around Bagmut, where a khaki-clad Zelensky presented medals to soldiers amid thunderous applause at a tumbledown industrial complex, video released by his office showed.
With the sound of artillery in the distance, Bagmuth, who had come to symbolize the brutality of war, urged them to keep up their enthusiasm as the battle entered its fifth month.
“The East is retreating because Pakmuth is fighting. Freedom is being preserved here for all of us in fierce battles and at the cost of many lives,” Zelensky wrote in a telegram.
“That is why I am with them today. They are superhuman. They are our strength and our heroes.”
Earlier, he repeatedly called on the West to demand more weapons, including air defense systems, after Russian drones hit energy targets in the third airstrike on power facilities in six days.
Putin acknowledged the ‘difficult’ situation
Breaking the official line that the invasion was going smoothly, Putin acknowledged serious problems in the Ukrainian regions Moscow unilaterally annexed in September, and he ordered the Federal Security Services (FSB) to ensure the “safety” of residents there. .
“The situation in Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions is very difficult,” he said in a video address to security staff translated by Reuters.
Later in a televised Kremlin ceremony, he was shown presenting medals to the Russian-appointed leaders of the four regions.
In another move on the 300th day of his invasion, Putin ordered the FSB to step up surveillance of Russian society and borders to combat the “emergence of new threats” from abroad and traitors at home.
Western countries have imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia, and the ruble fell to a seven-month low against the dollar on Tuesday.
In Washington, a senior US State Department official told reporters that Russia has conflicting views on what the next steps should be in Ukraine, with some seeking new attacks and others doubting Russia’s capability.
Putin’s declared annexations, condemned as illegal by Ukraine and its Western allies, are an attempt to turn the tide after a series of battlefield losses to the Ukrainian counteroffensive since the summer.
But Russian forces have since retreated to Kherson, one of the newly claimed regions, and airstrikes across Ukraine have targeted a power grid in what Moscow says is an attempt to destabilize the military.
The airstrikes, which Kyiv says are clearly aimed at breaking down citizens’ will to resist, have repeatedly cut off electricity and water supplies under the winter cold.
Prime Minister Denis Shmihal said Ukrainians should prepare for new Russian attacks because Moscow wanted them to spend Christmas and New Year in darkness.
On Monday, Putin visited Belarus for the first time since 2019, and he and his ally praised ever-closer ties, not to mention the conflict in Ukraine.
Russian troops used Belarus as a springboard for an attack on the southern Ukrainian capital of Kiev in February. There has been Russian and Belarusian military activity in Belarus for months.
Kyiv says Russian forces have continued to use airfields in Belarus for attacks on Ukraine since the February 24 invasion.
But Lukashenko insists he has no intention of sending Belarusian troops into Ukraine. The Kremlin dismissed the idea of a more active Belarusian role as “baseless” and “stupid”.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Russia could prepare a force in Belarus to launch a new attack on Ukraine, but he believes Minsk’s troops are not interested in “wasting its military potential”.
The conflict in Ukraine, which has killed tens of thousands of people, driven millions from their homes and reduced cities to rubble, shows no sign of ending.
Five people were killed in eastern Donetsk and southern Kherson regions in recent Russian attacks, Kyiv officials said. Missiles knocked out power in the southern city of Saporigia and hit oil and gas plants in the east, they said. In the Kyiv region, the power supply was very poor.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts of either side.
Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” in Ukraine to root out nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Kiev and the West call it nonsense, calling Russia’s actions an imperialist-style land grab.
Reporting by Valentin Okrenko in Gayle, Lydia Kelly in Melbourne, Humera Pamuk in Washington and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; By Sri Navaratnam, Philippa Fletcher and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Lincoln Feist, Nick MacPhee and Jonathan Otis
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