December 14, 2023

Excerpts from Putin’s year-end press conference

Pavel Zarubin: The other day you honoured the Heroes of Russia, and we saw you saying that we should save the young men, but we should do it, do it, do it.

For almost two years now, our country has been living under the conditions of the special military operation, and of course there has been a flurry of questions from the public. I will just read out some of them, literally. ”How do you assess these two years?“ ”What is the situation now? What are the dynamics?“ ”The goals and objectives of the operation – are they the same as they were at the beginning or not?“ And of course, the most important thing: ”When will there be peace?“

Vladimir Putin: There will be peace when we achieve our goals, which you have mentioned. Now let’s return to these goals – they have not changed. I would like to remind you how we formulated them: denazification, demilitarisation, and a neutral status for Ukraine.

Look what is happening in terms of denazification. During the negotiation process, there was a certain stage after the drafting of a possible agreement, which was recently mentioned by officials in Kiev, where, in general they did not agree that some kind of denazification was needed, and they said that there was no fascistisation, no growth of such sentiments. How could there not be? When a national hero – a famous, not just a nationalist, but a Nazi – Bandera is elevated to the rank of a national hero, what do you mean, there is not?

And when the head of today’s Kiev Administration in front of the whole world gives a standing ovation to a former SS soldier who directly participated in the Holocaust, in the extermination of 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine, Russians and Poles. Is this not a manifestation of Nazism? Therefore, the issue of denazification is relevant. It is true that during the negotiation process we, our negotiators, were told that in principle they did not rule out the possibility of adopting some legislative acts in Ukraine. That was then, during the negotiations in Istanbul.

Now, as for demilitarisation. If they do not want to reach an agreement, then we have to resort to other measures, including military ones. Today Ukraine produces very little; they are trying to maintain some production, but it is almost non-existent. Everything they get is a freebie, and I apologise for such talk. But these freebies may end one day; in fact, they are already coming to an end little by little. But that is not even the main issue. I believe they will still be receiving these freebies, but they are being destroyed. I will not go into specific numbers for aircraft and air defence systems. They received 400 tanks, around 420 or 430, as promised. By the way, they got everything as promised. Ukraine received everything, and even more than what was promised by the West. But ever since the start of the so-called counteroffensive, we have destroyed 747 tanks. This is as of yesterday evening. We have also destroyed almost 2,300 armoured vehicles of various types. This is what is called demilitarisation. Alternatively, we can agree on demilitarisation and establish certain parameters. We actually agreed on them during the Istanbul talks, although these agreements were thrown out later, but we managed to reach agreement. There are also other possibilities to either reach an agreement or resolve the conflict by force. This is what we will strive for.

Pavel Zarubin: There is a short but important question that many people are concerned about: will there be a second wave of mobilisation?

Vladimir Putin: I understand that this is a burning issue. Look, we had a partial mobilisation, and at that time we called up 300,000 people. By the way, at first there was a lot of irony, many giggles about the mobilised personnel, and silly nicknames given to them. I remember this well. But these guys are fighting incredibly well. There are 14 Heroes of the Russian Federation from among those mobilised, not to mention other medals and orders. If I am not mistaken, there are 244,000 soldiers directly in the combat zone, in the special military operation zone. We formed regiments for equipment maintenance because there are many experts in this field who are in great demand. If I am correct, 41,000 were discharged due to mandatory retirement, health reasons, and so on.

After this, we launched a fairly broad campaign to attract volunteer fighters to sign contracts with the Armed Forces. Our goal was to recruit a little over 400,000 people by the end of the year. As of yesterday evening, I received a report that 486,000 have been recruited, and the number of men who are ready to defend the interests of our Motherland with arms in hand is not decreasing. There are 1,500 volunteer fighters being recruited every day throughout the country. So, together with the volunteers there will be about half a million people by the end of this year. This is just a conventional division into two groups: the contract is signed for two or three years, and the so-called volunteers, although, in fact, they are all heroes fighting for the Fatherland, but they have a one-year contract, which is a shorter period. So, what do we need mobilisation for? There is absolutely no need for it today.

Dmitry Peskov: If I may, I would like to remind everyone that today’s event is a combined format, Direct Line and a news conference with the President, so could we start the Presidential Q&A now?

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Yekaterina Korostovtseva: Mr President, good afternoon. TASS news agency, Yekaterina Korostovtseva. We have a question on international matters for you. It has three parts.

What are the prospects, in your opinion, for bringing relations with the European Union back to normal? It has been becoming increasingly obvious lately that the Western countries have grown tired of helping Ukraine. What do you think about this new factor?

I have another question for you. The right has been gaining traction on the European political stage. What do you have to say about this topic and is this a matter of concern to you?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: As for normalising relations, it does not depend on us alone. We did not do anything to sour them; it was them who did it and who consistently tried to push us further back, disregarding our interests.

How did the conflict in Ukraine begin? Let us look back, even though it may take three or four minutes. It began with the state coup in Ukraine in 2014. Before that, we did our best for decades, I repeat, for decades, to develop normal relations with Ukraine, even after the events that amounted to a state coup, when Viktor Yanukovych was prevented from assuming office after he won the [presidential] election in the second round. But they decided to hold a third round. What was it if not a state coup? The [Ukrainian] Constitution did not allow for a third round. It was a gradual coup. But we accepted that.

What happened next? He [Yanukovych] won the next election, and what did our so-called opponents do? They staged a state coup.

Do you see the core of the problem? The problem is, as I have always said and as I am saying today, that despite the current tragic developments, Russians and Ukrainians are essentially one people. What is happening now is an immense tragedy; it is like a civil war between brothers who stand on different sides [of the conflict]. But overall, they are not, to a large extent, responsible for this. 

The southeastern part of Ukraine has always been pro-Russian because it is historically a Russian territory. I see a colleague holding up a sign saying “Turkiye.” He knows, and people in Turkiye know that the entire Black Sea region was incorporated into Russia as the result of Russo-Turkish wars. What does Ukraine have to do with that? Neither Crimea nor the Black Sea region has any connection to Ukraine. Odessa is a Russian city. We know this. Everyone knows this. But they [Ukrainians] have concocted some historical nonsense.

Well now, Vladimir Lenin incorporated these regions into Ukraine when the Soviet Union was established. We did not dispute that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and we were ready to live within that paradigm. However, this southeastern part is pro-Russian, which was important to us. They aways voted for those who advocated a pro-Russian stance in Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policy. On the whole, this suited Russia.

But after the 2014 state coup, it became clear to us that they would use force to prevent us from developing normal relations with Ukraine. They spent $5 billion on that state coup, as the Americans openly admitted, without any hesitation.

In 2014, three foreign ministers from Europe (from Poland, Germany and France) went [to Ukraine] to sign off as guarantors of agreements between the government – President Yanukovich – and the opposition. They agreed to resolve their disagreements peacefully. Two days later, they carried out a coup d’état. Why did they do it? They could have run and won the next election. But no. They wanted it straight away, and they wanted to create a conflict – that is why.

Who did it? Our American “buddies.” And the Europeans, who signed the agreements between the government and the opposition as guarantors, pretended they did not know anything about it. Today, if you ask them in Europe if anyone remembers this – no, they do not. But we have not forgotten and we will not forget.

That, combined with a burning urge to creep up to our borders and drag Ukraine into NATO – all of this has led to the tragedy. In addition, there has been bloodshed in Donbass for eight years. All this taken together has led to the tragedy that we are now experiencing. They forced us to take these actions.

So, as I say, in a situation where the United States conceived and orchestrated this act with Europe standing by and averting its gaze, or playing along and singing along with them, how can we build relations with them in these circumstances? We would – we did not break off any ties – but they pretend they do not know or remember anything. Only two or three times did they mention the Minsk agreements, saying they were not for real and were never going to be implemented. In 2014, they also signed those guarantees, those agreements between the government and the opposition in Ukraine just like that, and immediately forgot about them or threw them away.

Do you see my point? My point is that they have lost their sovereignty to a large extent, as we can see now, and they are making many decisions to their own detriment. To their own detriment! But they do it, nonetheless.

Outwardly, many European politicians may look like General de Gaulle, who took up arms to fight for his country’s interests, who rallied whatever resources France could muster to resist the occupiers. But in reality, they are more like Marshal Pétain – although he was a WWI hero, he became a collaborator and succumbed to the invaders during World War II.

Almost everyone [in Europe] behaves this way, except for a few people. Robert Fico became a new leader [in Slovakia] after the election, and Viktor Orbán in Hungary. I have said many times that they are not pro-Russia politicians, they are pro-national – they are defending their countries’ interests. But there are too few politicians like this; I do not know why they do not exist. Maybe this has to do with Europe’s excessive dependence on the Big Brother – the United States. But we are ready to build relations with them.

In fact, we are ready to build relations with the United States as well. We believe that America is an important country on the world stage. But this absolutely imperial policy the country pursues is bad for them, not even for us. Why? Because the public expects them to act like an empire, and if they agree to compromise on something or concede something to someone, their voters will see this as a failure or a flaw. That may partly be the reason the elites have to act in this way.

As soon as they change on a deeper level, and begin to respect other people, other countries, start searching for compromises instead of addressing their problems using sanctions and military force, which would create the underlying conditions for restoring full-fledged relations. So far, there are no such conditions. But we are ready for this.

Dmitry Peskov: Mr President, not all of our military correspondents are on the frontline. I see Nikolai Dolgachev in the studio. Ask your question, please.

Nikolai Dolgachev, Mr President, good afternoon! 

I am Nikolai Dolgachev, Vesti correspondent and now the director of the VGTRK affiliate in Lugansk.

The Lugansk Republic has almost been fully liberated. Peaceful life is being restored, but we are worried about the whole front, knowing what heavy fighting is going on in the south and along the Dnieper. People have even been talking for some time about a certain bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnieper, in the Krynki township area. What kind of a bridgehead is it and how do we stand there? 

And, I would like to ask you an additional question, with your permission. Large-scale work on restoring social and other infrastructure facilities is really going on in the liberated regions that are already a bit further from the front. We see this with our own eyes and life is changing a lot, but many people ask, and I will join them, what is the future of the new regions of our country? What is the goal? What will they be like in our country in several years? 

And we know, Mr President, whatever you say will happen, so please tell us what will happen.

Vladimir Putin: It would be good if whatever I say would happen but, unfortunately, this is not always the case. Such is the world’s practice. I think everyone sitting here, listening to us and looking at us has the same experience. We talk about something, we want something to happen, and some things happen and others do not. This is normal, but it is certainly necessary to strive to reach one’s goals.

Now about Krynki. The enemy announced a big counteroffensive but nothing came of it anywhere. The last attempt – at any rate it looks like the last attempt for now – was to break through to the left bank of the Dnieper and ensure the movement towards Crimea. Everyone is talking about this, it is common knowledge, and it is nothing new. What happened in this section?

The Armed Forces of Ukraine focused its artillery shelling on a very narrow section of the left bank. To keep our men alive and not to subject them to excessive risk, not to sustain losses, the military command decided to retreat for several metres (I will tell you and as a military correspondent you understand what I am talking about). They are hiding their personnel in the forest to save it from unnecessary losses.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine walked into this section. It is small – about 1,200 metres long and some 300 metres wide. I do not even understand why they are doing this – they are simply pushing their people into death. The Ukrainian military say themselves that this is a one-way trip. To get the personnel there – about 80 people were there the whole time, but now the number is somewhat smaller – they are using only boats, and the boats are under fire from artillery, drones and other weapons. The sanitary losses among our personnel are two or three people, and there were six wounded three days ago. The enemy has dozens of dead. They were simply caught in a “fire bag.” They are throwing their men into it only for political reasons – I believe it’s just for political reasons.

Where does this come from? One can only guess and speculate. Apparently, it has something to do with foreign travel by Ukrainian leaders to beg for more money to keep the country running, to pay for the military component, equipment, and munitions. It appears that their approach is based on the assumption that as long as they travel and beg for arms, everyone will believe that the “counteroffensive” by Ukraine’s armed forces has at least some chances of achieving success, regardless of losses. They are just being driven out of there; that is all there is to it. They can build bridges and pontoons, but they don’t do this because they know these structures will be destroyed instantly, since they are within our reach. That is what is happening.

Here is what I would like to draw your attention to. These are not just servicemen of the Ukrainian armed forces; they are the elite, the assault squads. There are not many of them, actually. If you tally the losses sustained by the Armed Forces of Ukraine over the past 45 days, you will know how tangible it is. I believe this represents foolish and irresponsible behaviour on the part of the country’s political leaders. But it is up to them.

This is no longer a secret. Some time ago, I told the Chief of the General Staff, “Do not rush to push them out of there.” I will be open about it: it is good for us if they mindlessly continue to send more troops there. This is unfortunate, but that is the logic of hostilities. But they continue to do so, and it is their tragedy, I think. Nevertheless, the Minister and the Chief of the General Staff said, “No, we will continue to gradually narrow down their latitude of movement.” This is what is happening. I think that everything will be over soon.

Now, you asked me about the overall state of affairs on the front. You already know it yourself, you are an expert. By the way, I watch you there and my heart sinks, especially when I see female reporters on the front line. I think maybe we should tell the main channels to remove women from there; it is a scary sight. Well, ok.

You are aware of the situation. Let us be humble about it, but our Armed Forces are improving their position almost along the entire line of contact. Almost all of them are engaged in active combat. And the position of our troops is improving along [the entire line of contact].

Now, about the future of these regions. There are many questions about this coming from the new regions and from other parts of the Russian Federation: what will become of them? Annually, the federal budget provides for over a trillion rubles for the development of these regions and their gradual integration into Russia’s economic and social life.

Of course, the situation in other regions is much better. This is because, for some reason, just like in Crimea, Kiev’s previous authorities never focused too much on these regions. However, over a trillion rubles are invested annually and will be invested in the coming years. Plus, these regions and other regions of the Russian Federation have established twin-region relations and these regions have already invested, I think, about 100–140, around 150 billion. Other regions will chip in and invest about 100 billion more.

Here is what I would like to share with you. Importantly, this year these “new regions” paid 170 billion rubles into the federal budget, meaning that the economy of these regions is recovering and getting back to normal. Of course, much remains to be done, and we will handle it.

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