Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged on Wednesday that his “special military operation” in Ukraine is taking longer than expected, but hailed the seizure of his neighbor’s territory as a major achievement and said his country’s nuclear weapons are deterring the ‘escalation.
“Of course, it could be a long process,” Putin said of the more than 9-month war that began with the Russian invasion on Feb. 24. The war has displaced millions of people from their homes and killed and injured tens of thousands.
Despite its length, Putin showed no signs of letting up, vowing to “constantly fight for our interests” and “protect himself by all available means”.
Speaking at a televised meeting in Russia with members of his Human Rights Council, Putin described the land gains as “a significant result for Russia”, noting that “the Sea of Azov is become the inland sea of Russia”.
After failing to take Kyiv due to fierce Ukrainian resistance, Russia seized large swathes of southern Ukraine early in the invasion and captured the key Sea of Azov port, Mariupol, in May, after a siege of almost three months.
In September, Putin illegally annexed four regions of Ukraine, even though his forces did not completely control them: Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south, and Donetsk and Lugansk in the east. In 2014, he illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
In response to a growing influx of advanced Western weapons, economic, political and humanitarian aid to Kyiv, and what he saw as inflammatory statements by Western leaders, Putin periodically hinted at his potential use of nuclear weapons. .
When a member of the Human Rights Council asked him on Wednesday to pledge that Russia would not be the first to use such weapons, Putin hesitated.
“If he does not use it in any case the first, it means that he will not be the second to use it either, because the possibility of using it in the event of a nuclear strike on our territory will be severely limited” , he added. said.
Putin, who has repeatedly said Russia is ready to use “all available means” to protect its territory, including illegally annexed areas of Ukraine, dismissed Western criticism that the statements amounted to blows of nuclear sabers.
He claimed that they were “not a factor provoking an escalation of conflicts, but a factor of deterrence”.