Ukraine war: Putin tells Russia his war objectives are unchanged

  • By George Wright & Vitaliy Shevchenko
  • BBC News

Video caption,

Watch: Russia can’t exist without sovereignty, says Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told Russians that peace with Ukraine will only take place “when we achieve our objectives”.

He is holding his first major news conference since he launched his first full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Mr Putin has combined his annual “direct line” phone-in with Russians with an audience of journalists.

The annual event did not take place last year.

Much of the first part of this marathon event is focused on what Mr Putin calls the “special military operation in Ukraine”.

His initial thoughts address the importance of Russian sovereignty. “The existence of our country without sovereignty is impossible. It will simply not exist,” he tells state-controlled Channel One host Yekaterina Berezovskaya.

Mr Putin says Russia’s economy is strong for a time of war and the topic of conversation quickly moves to Ukraine.

‘617,000 Russians fighting in Ukraine’

Mr Putin says that “there will be peace [in Ukraine] when we achieve our objectives”. Those “objectives do not change”, he says, listing “denazification, demilitarisation and its neutral status”. These are themes he has highlighted from the start of the war.

At one point he reveals that Russia currently has a total of 617,000 troops fighting in Ukraine. He also claims that on top of 300,000 people called up for service last year, another 486,000 have signed up voluntarily as contract soldiers.

“The stream of our men who are ready to defend the interests of the homeland with weapons in their hands is not diminishing,” he said. “Altogether there will be just under half a million men by the end of this year. Why do we need a mobilisation?”

He gives no number of military losses, but discloses that children of people within his “close” circle have fought for so-called private military companies, and a number of people “close to me” have died.

A classified US intelligence report estimated this week that 315,000 Russian soldiers had been either killed or wounded since the war began – which it said was almost 90% of Russia’s military personnel at the start of the invasion.


Image caption,

The marathon event, cancelled last year, combines carefully vetted questions from ordinary Russians as well as journalists in the studio

A war reporter for Russian daily Izvestia based in occupied Luhansk in eastern Ukraine then asks Mr Putin about Ukraine’s recent foothold on the Russian-occupied east bank of the Dnipro river.

Describing Ukraine’s military success in a “small area” as a last-ditch attempt by Ukraine to break through to Crimea, President Putin explains that Russian forces decided to withdraw several metres into wooded areas “to save our lads”. He goes on to suggest Kyiv’s main motive is to show the West that it needs more military funding.

“I don’t know why they are doing it, they are pushing their people to get killed, it’s a one-way trip for Ukrainian forces. The reasons for this are political, because Ukrainian leaders are begging foreign countries for aid.”

Mr Putin goes on to claim that Russian forces have the upper hand across the front line in Ukraine.

“Practically along the entire line of contact our armed forces are improving their situation, to put it modestly,” he says at his marathon news conference.

There has been very little movement on the front line in recent months, but Russia is targeting two eastern towns in the Donetsk region, Mariinka and Avdiivka.

Russia can ‘move forward’ despite sanctions

Mr Putin also covers Russian relations with the United States and EU.

He describes the US as an important country but accuses it of imperialism. He urges the US to “respect other people and countries” and says Russia is ready to restore relations once this happens.

Mr Putin insists Russia can “move forward” despite Western economic sanctions and political isolation stemming from its invasion of Ukraine.

The number of questions submitted by Russians to Mr Putin reportedly exceeded two million.

Mr Putin’s phone-ins can last up to four hours and this event coincides with a flurry of questions from Russian and international journalists.

This story will be updated as the event progresses

Additional reporting by Sandro Vetsko


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