Putin press conference: Russia's leader vows no peace until Ukraine goals achieved

Russian President says no plans at present for second military draft

Russian President Vladimir Putin during his annual press conference in Moscow. Reuters
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The goals of Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine have not changed, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, stating there would be no peace until they have been achieved.

Setting out the objectives, as he did on the day he sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, Mr Putin said at his annual press conference that Russia aimed to bring about the “denazification, demilitarisation and a neutral status” of the country.

"There will be peace when we achieve our goals," he said.

Mr Putin has repeatedly claimed the Ukrainian government is heavily influenced by radical nationalist and neo-Nazi groups – an allegation derided by Ukraine and the West.

At the press conference, which ran for more than four hours, he said: "As for demilitarisation, if they don't want to come to an agreement, then we are forced to take other measures, including military ones. Or we will agree on certain terms."

He added: "Either we get an agreement, agree on certain parameters [on the size and strength of Ukraine's military] ... or we solve this by force. This is what we will strive for."

Mr Putin ordered a partial military call-up in September 2022 as he tried to boost his forces in Ukraine, leading to protests.

On the possibility of a second military draft, Mr Putin said: "We had a partial mobilisation, we called up 300,000 people. The guys are fighting well, really well ... I think 244,000 are in the special military operation zone.

"After that, we started a campaign to attract people on a voluntary basis to sign contracts with the armed forces. As of yesterday evening, I was informed we now had come up with 486,000.

"The flow of men ready to defend our homeland with arms in hand is not decreasing. Together with volunteers, there should be around half a million people. There is no need for mobilisation as of today."

He said "the flow" of volunteers signing up "is not diminishing", with about 1,500 signing up every day.

About 617,000 Russian troops are currently fighting in battle zones in Ukraine, he added.

Putin says Russia's goals in Ukraine have not changed

Putin says Russia's goals in Ukraine have not changed

His comments came days after US intelligence revealed nine in 10 Russian soldiers from the original Ukraine invasion force have become casualties. An estimated 315,000 troops of the 360,000 who invaded in February 2022 have been killed or wounded, a declassified report said.

Russian has also suffered significant equipment losses with two thirds of its main battle tanks destroyed and a third of its infantry fighting vehicles lost.

Despite the huge cost, Moscow has still been able to recruit enough soldiers as battlefield replacements, with 420,000 manning the front line, according to Ukrainian intelligence.

At one point in Thursday's marathon press conference, Mr Putin took questions from Russian forces fighting near the front line, with gunfire echoing in the background.

He claimed his troops were progressing on most of the Ukraine front line, which has barely moved over the past year.

"Our armed forces are improving their position on almost the entire line of contact. The situation of our troops is improving throughout," Mr Putin said.

On the economy, he said "the most important indicator is economic growth".

"GDP growth by the end of the year is expected at 3.5 per cent – this is a good indicator, it means we have recovered from last year's fall ... and we have made a relatively serious step forward.

"Unfortunately, inflation has increased. By the end of the year it is expected at 7.5 per cent, maybe a little more at 8 per cent, but the central bank and government are taking necessary measures."

He blamed the 40 per cent increase in the price of cars on the departure of foreign manufacturers from Russia, in a rare acknowledgement of the harm caused by western measures imposed over Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

"When European brands left Russia – European, Japanese, South Korean – several issues arose," he said. "And of course, they left with components.

"Certain costs are still linked to the fact that, one way or another, the [Russian] producer still sources these same imported components, but already at another price. And this leads to higher prices."

He also apologised to a pensioner who complained to him about the price of eggs, chicken breasts and wings.

"I apologise for this, but this is a failure of the government's work ... I promise that the situation will be corrected in the near future," Mr Putin said.

The Russian leader, who has held power for nearly 24 years and announced recently he is running for re-election, was greeted with applause as he arrived in the hall in central Moscow.

This year, ordinary citizens have the chance to phone in questions along with those asked by journalists, and Russians have been submitting questions for Mr Putin for two weeks.

Mr Putin did not hold his usual call-in show with ordinary Russians or his traditional session with reporters last year and his annual state-of-the-nation address was delayed until February.

His previous annual news conference – which often last four hours – was in 2021 at a time of US warnings that Russia was on the brink of sending troops into Ukraine.

Updated: December 14, 2023, 1:52 PM