In an unusual, wide-ranging interview with war correspondents and military bloggers, President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday portrayed the Russian military as standing firm against a long-awaited Ukrainian counterattack, and indicated that the conflict was achieving the goals it set out at the outset.
“The enemy has not succeeded in any of the sectors,” Putin said of the Ukrainian offensive launched during recent days, instead suffering heavy losses compared to Russia’s relatively few. On tanks, for example, he said Ukraine lost 160 tanks compared to Russia’s 54, adding that some of the latter could be repaired. His claims cannot be independently confirmed.
Mr. Putin has touched on almost every aspect of the conflict in recent weeks. He chose a format he rarely used, allowing 18 reporters to inquire about the war for more than two hours in a style reminiscent of his annual “Beeline” performance, when he answers questions for hours from all over the country.
He said Russia did not need to recruit more new soldiers because it had attracted about 156,000 other contractors or volunteers since January, in addition to the 300,000 recruited last year.
Trying to make the most of the fact that Russia has suffered repeated setbacks with both men and weapons, he notes that the country has learned valuable lessons on how to better organize its armed forces.
He acknowledged that cross-border attacks from Ukraine by Russian revolutionaries had been devastating, suggesting with some bravado that Russia might have to create an “exclusion zone” on the Ukrainian side of the border to prevent its artillery from reaching Russia.
At some point, he also suggested that the Russian army might once again have to march on Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Russian forces were driven out of Kiev after failing to take it as promised within a few days after the all-out invasion in February 2022, and a large swathe of the area around the eastern city of Kharkiv was lost to a Ukrainian offensive last fall.
For Nikolai Petrov, a seasoned political analyst, the whole effort looked as if Mr. Putin was trying to demonstrate that he was a commander-in-chief in complete control of the facts on the ground. More importantly, Mr. Petrov speculated that the remarks could be a prelude to seeking negotiations by suggesting that the Ukrainian counterattack was doomed to failure.
Since the general public trusts reporters and bloggers so much more than the Department of Defense, his choice of interlocutors, along with such details as the number of Russian tanks destroyed, was meant to build something like a fair-minded analysis, Mr. Petrov said.
“There is no reason for him to be so public and give such detailed explanations unless he is trying to address a Western or Ukrainian audience,” he said. “The very idea is to prove that he’s the commander-in-chief who knows everything about everything.”
Mr. Putin claimed that Russia is doing a great job of disarming Ukraine despite its Western backers. He admitted various pieces of information that had been previously classified, such as the pardons he was issuing to convicts who fought with Wagner’s private military group.
Much of what he said was not new, such as threatening to withdraw from a deal that allowed Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain from its Black Sea ports, despite Russia controlling the waterways, saying he was only doing so because so much of the world needed the grain.
He noted that military production had increased 2.7 times, and in some cases ten times as much, he said, using a rather curious anecdote to illustrate its quality. A Russian T-90 tank that hit a land mine was unharmed, Putin said, although the person inside was so badly hit that he died.
In the final chapter of the dispute between Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu and Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the feisty founder of Wagner’s private military force, Mr. Prigozhin declined the Ministry of Defense’s invitation for all of these organizations to sign contracts. By July 1, the move was seen as an attempt by the ministry to extend some control over these forces, which are technically illegal in Russia, while also giving them full military benefits.
Putin said he supports inviting paramilitary organizations to sign such contracts. Mr. Petrov, the analyst, suggested that the president was using Mr. Prigozhin as a buffer, making the president seem like the more moderate figure as the mercenary commander has repeatedly called for escalating attacks against Ukraine and putting the economy on fire. “His method before any negotiation is to let his man say something awful so that he looks better,” said Mr. Petrov.
Alina Lobzina Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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