Putin threatens to take over more of Ukraine to block border attacks

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested on Tuesday that he could order his troops to try to seize more land in Ukraine to protect Russian border territory — a threat whose credibility is questionable because the Kremlin has not not full control of the areas it has already annexed.

In some of his most detailed remarks on the war in months, the Russian leader also claimed that Ukrainian forces had suffered “catastrophic” losses in a new counteroffensive, and he said he was not considering a new mobilization of troops, as many Russians feared. But he did not rule out another troop recall later. And he reiterated Russia’s claim that Ukraine was responsible for the explosion of a dam on the Dnieper that caused widespread flooding on both sides of the front line last week in the south of the country. .

Putin’s comments at a public meeting with military journalists and bloggers followed Kiev’s claims that Ukrainian troops had captured a handful of villages at the start of the counteroffensive as they sought to evict the Russian troops from four regions of Ukraine that the Kremlin illegally annexed last fall. The meeting, which lasted more than two hours, came after Russian missile strikes in central Ukraine killed at least 11 people overnight.

Putin said Ukraine’s counteroffensive had failed. He claimed Ukraine had lost 160 tanks and more than 360 other armored vehicles, while Russia had lost 54 tanks since the new assault began. These claims could not immediately be verified. Ukrainian officials generally do not comment on losses.

The White House offered no immediate reaction to Putin’s claims.

A US official familiar with US intelligence said Putin’s comments were “not accurate” and cautioned against judging Russia’s public assessments. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to offer an internal assessment, did not specify how Putin’s claims were misleading.

Referring to the alleged Ukrainian incursions into Russia and the bombardment of border regions, Putin said he plans to “create on Ukrainian territory a kind of sanitary zone at such a distance that it would be impossible to get our territory”.

It was unclear whether Russia – which failed to capture Kiev and its environs at the start of the war and later had to give up other territories it had captured, even in annexed areas – could afford to risk extending its gains in Ukraine while trying to repel the evolving counter-offensive in several sectors of the frontline by more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles).

In recent weeks, Russia’s border areas have come under increasing attack, with the Kremlin accusing Ukrainian forces of fighter incursions and drone strikes.

The Ukrainian authorities did not confirm kyiv’s involvement in the attacks but indirectly welcomed them. Units of Russian volunteers sympathetic to Ukraine have claimed responsibility for the incursions.

Local leaders in Russia have pleaded with the Kremlin to do more to protect residents, some of whom have been evacuated to safer areas.

Putin acknowledged that Russian authorities should have anticipated and prepared to stop such attacks. Earlier in the war, the border was better protected because Russia held more adjacent Ukrainian territory, but Kremlin forces withdrew from much of it last fall under the weight of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Putin’s long encounter with military bloggers, as well as mainstream news media war correspondents, was a dramatic acknowledgment of their importance in conveying the Kremlin’s point of view.

In other remarks, Putin also said:

— The Russian defense industry has increased its production of drones and other weapons, but needs more, and the West is also struggling to produce more weapons and ammunition.

– Russia could pull out of a UN-backed deal to allow grain shipments from Ukraine through a demilitarized Black Sea shipping corridor.

— The United States could stop the war by stopping arms shipments to Ukraine, leaving it too weak to continue the fight.

— The West will eventually realize that it will not succeed in Ukraine. “They’ll never see it happen. Never.”

As Putin spoke, the State Department announced that the United States would send Ukraine a new military aid package worth up to $325 million, including a range of rockets, missiles and weapons. other ammunition.

Putin scoffed at alleged Ukrainian battlefield casualties, including high-tech Western equipment kyiv received. He said German-made Leopard battle tanks and American-made Bradley infantry fighting vehicles “burn very well”.

Earlier Tuesday, its Ministry of Defense released a video showing what it said was a Leopard 2 tank and a Bradley fighting vehicle captured by Ukrainian forces. According to the ministry, Russian soldiers shot the video after heavy fighting in Zaporizhzhia. It was not possible to immediately verify the authenticity of the video.

Ukrainian officials have been nearly as forceful as Putin in vowing to win the war, with Zelenskyy insisting his people will not back down until all of Ukraine is freed from Russian control.

Contrasting Putin’s dim view of Ukraine’s progress in its counteroffensive, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told President Joe Biden on Tuesday that the Ukrainians were “making progress,” and that could strengthen their position in the peace talks.

“It’s still early days, but what we do know is that the more land the Ukrainians are able to free up, the more of a hand they will have at the negotiating table,” Stoltenberg told a meeting at the White House.

Also on Tuesday, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar told Ukrainian television that the country’s forces continued the offensive in four areas in the south and east.

Ukraine’s ground troop chief said forces were “advancing” out of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Oleksandr Syrskyi wrote on Telegram that Russian forces are “losing positions on the flanks”.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian authorities said at least 11 people were killed and 36 injured overnight in a Russian missile strike on the town of Kryvyi Rih, the birthplace of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Footage of the latest missile attack relayed by Zelenskyy on his Telegram channel showed firefighters battling a blaze as flames streamed through shattered windows in a damaged building. Charred and damaged vehicles littered the ground.

“No more terrorist missiles,” he wrote. “Russian killers continue their war against residential buildings, ordinary towns and people.”

Without providing details of where or when, the Russian Defense Ministry said Russian forces used long-range air-launched cruise missiles to strike Ukrainian military stockpiles and depots containing weapons and ammunition. Western.

The governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, Serhiy Lysak, wrote on Telegram that the bodies of seven people were found in the warehouse of a private company and that “four other fates were cut short” in the building.

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Washington and Andrew Katell in New York contributed to this report.

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