Vladimir Putin vows to fight until Ukraine ‘goals are achieved’

Russian leader fields questions at length for first time since ordering invasion

Vladimir Putin said his invasion of Ukraine would end only when Russia’s “goals are achieved”, indicating he intends to keep fighting unless Kyiv capitulates.

Speaking at a marathon press conference and phone-in on Thursday, Russia’s president said he was still focused on the “denazification” and “demilitarisation” of Ukraine. The stage-managed event was the first time Mr Putin had taken questions at length since ordering the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“There will be peace when our goals are achieved,” said Mr Putin.

His vaguely worded demands, which also include Ukraine abandoning its bid for Nato membership, essentially amount to its wholesale surrender and acceptance of long-term Russian dominance.


Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has refused to negotiate a ceasefire and accept the loss of a fifth of his country’s territory, which is currently under Russian control.

But Ukrainian optimism after inflicting a series of humiliating battlefield setbacks on Russia last year has faded recently as western resolve has started to falter.

Mr Zelenskiy this week travelled to Washington but failed to secure additional military support from the US Congress, where the Republican majority is holding up a $60 billion (€55 billion) bill put forward by the White House.

In addition, EU leaders gathering in Brussels on Thursday were set to hold difficult negotiations to overcome Hungary’s opposition to a €50 billion funding package for Ukraine for the next four years and to approve the start of EU accession talks with Kyiv.

“Ukraine produces almost nothing today, everything is coming from the West, but the free stuff is going to run out some day, and it seems it already is,” said Mr Putin.

He claimed Ukraine was running out of troops after taking heavy casualties in its counteroffensive, which failed to secure any significant territorial gains this year, and expressed confidence that Russia’s army was turning the tide.

“The enemy announced a big counteroffensive. None of it worked anywhere,” said Mr Putin. “I don’t even know why they do this. They are just sending their men out to be destroyed.”

Kremlin spindoctors and state media used the telethon to present Mr Putin as an all-powerful, benevolent leader capable of solving ordinary Russians’ personal problems while crowing of victories on the battlefield and his prowess as a global statesman.

At one point, Mr Putin took a question from himself in the guise of an AI-generated video in which an “anonymous resident of St Petersburg” asked the Russian president about widespread rumours he uses body doubles. Mr Putin said he had “decided the only one who looks like me and speaks with my voice should be me”.

But in a sign of how the war was affecting Russian society and economy, some questions revealed citizens’ concerns about high inflation, frontline soldiers’ frustrations and complaints about crumbling social services. An oncologist in south-east Ukraine said they needed more doctors in annexed regions.

Messages flashed on a giant screen behind Mr Putin, including “Why does a box of eggs cost 550 roubles in Dagestan?” and “Why is your ‘reality’ at odds with our lived reality?”

Mr Putin at times struggled to come up with an answer. “Of course you’re right that things don’t always work. The frontline is almost 2,000km long,” said Mr Putin. “Of course not everything is delivered everywhere on time.”

He reassured Russians that there was no need to draft more men after last year’s mobilisation led to mass panic and prompted hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country.

The president ranted at length about what he claimed were the true roots of the Ukraine crisis, apportioning blame to the US and former Soviet ruler Vladimir Lenin.

He also hinted Russia had designs on two other Ukrainian regions on the Black Sea, which he said “had nothing to do with” Ukraine. “Odesa is a Russian city. We know that. Everyone knows that. But no, they thought up all sorts of historical nonsense,” he said.

Still, he insisted Russia’s war was nothing compared with the “catastrophe” of Israel’s bombing campaign on Gaza. “Look at ... what is happening in Gaza and notice the difference. Nothing like that is happening in Ukraine,” said Mr Putin.

Mr Putin also said Russia was in talks with the US about releasing Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and fellow American Paul Whelan from prison.

In his first comments on the issue since Mr Gershkovich was arrested in March on espionage charges, Mr Putin said Russia and the US were in discussion about a potential swap.

“I hope that we will find a solution, and that the American side will make a decision that will be accepted by the Russian side as well. They should be based on humanitarian considerations,” he added. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023