December 19, 2023

Russian President Putin addresses the Defense Ministry Board:  ‘Only Russia can guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity’

Russian Defense Ministry

A year ago, we met at the concluding meeting of the Defence Ministry Board and discussed priority tasks linked with the conduct of the special military operation, and we talked about additional measures to strengthen the army and navy. 

Today, we will evaluate the achievements of the past 12 months and single out the spheres where we still have to fundamentally improve and step up our work. 

The year 2023 was intense and uneasy for the Armed Forces, and I would like to say right away that our officers and soldiers and commanders of all levels bravely and professionally dealt with challenges during the special military operation, ensuring the country’s global sovereignty, as well as Russia’s nuclear missile parity and strategic security. At the same time, units and elements of all military districts and fleets maintained high level of combat readiness. Systemic combat training programmes took place strictly according to plan, and we also addressed mobilisation, technical and personnel issues.

I would like to thank the leadership of the Defence Ministry and the Ministry’s personnel for their service and for conscientiously accomplishing the tasks, set by the Motherland. 

I would like to specially thank everyone who has fought or is fighting in frontline areas, fulfilling their difficult duty in the special military operation zone, defending Russian airspace, repelling attacks by the enemy’s aerial and naval drones, thwarting artillery barrages and incursions by subversive groups in our western border areas.

Of course, I would like to note the unprecedented support of our people, including support for the defenders of the Fatherland, the patriotic mood of the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens, the unity and cohesion of people of various nationalities and religious denominations. This is a reliable and indestructible pillar of our army and navy.

We will always remain loyal to the cause for which our comrades-in-arms gave their lives. I invite everyone present to rise and observe a moment of silence in tribute of their memory.

(A moment of silence is announced.)

Comrades,

The past year’s developments have confirmed, and we can all see it, that the West continues to wage hybrid warfare against Russia, actively providing the Kiev regime with real-time intelligence data, sending military advisers, transferring new weapons systems to the country, including high-mobility multiple rocket launchers, long-range missile systems, cluster munitions, and large batches of new UAVs. As we know, Western countries are also planning to send F-16 multirole fighter jets to Ukraine, and pilots are now being trained in the West.

The NATO military bloc has increased its overall activity dramatically of late. Considerable forces and resources from the United States have been redeployed to our borders, including aircraft. The number of NATO troops in Eastern and Central Europe has increased. As we know, Finland has been dragged into NATO already, and Sweden is planning to join. In fact, this means a new stage of the alliance’s advance to our borders.

Let me remind you of what we all know: in 1991, they promised Gorbachev: no, no, not an inch to the east – well, there you go. This is the kind of partners they are. They lie shamelessly, through their teeth. At the same time, the bloc is no longer hiding its aggressive nature behind defensive rhetoric. I was told years ago it was not a military bloc, but a political organisation. And last time I checked, Article 5 was still there. At the same time, as I said, the aggressive nature of the bloc is not being hidden. US policy doctrines explicitly spell out its claims to global supremacy.

The West is not abandoning its strategy to contain Russia and its aggressive goals in Ukraine. Well, we are not going to give up the goals of our special military operation either.

Assessing the current situation on the ground, on the line of contact, we can say with confidence that our troops hold the initiative. In fact, we are doing what we think is necessary, and what we want to do. Where necessary, where you, the commanders generally consider it appropriate to use active defence, tactics, you do that; in other areas, we are improving our positions.

The enemy is suffering heavy losses and has largely squandered their reserves trying to show their real bosses at least some progress in their much-hyped operation they call a counter-offensive. Speaking of which, the myth about the Western military equipment being invulnerable has also collapsed.

All attempts, as they used to say in the West, to inflict a military defeat on us, a strategic defeat, were frustrated by the courage and resilience of our soldiers, faced with the increased power of our Armed Forces and the potential of our domestic industry and defence production capacities.

At the same time, and we have said this many times, the special operation has also revealed some problems. For example, we need to seriously restructure the communications system and use modern reconnaissance, target designation and counter-battery warfare methods more effectively. We need to increase the capabilities of our satellite constellation not only for the special operation zone, but also at the global level.

We have to seriously increase the production and supply of high-precision projectiles and drones of various types. I know that changes are taking place, and they are happening quickly, I will talk about this later, but we still need to work on it, we need to consolidate this effort. The air defence system also needs improving. Of course, our well-known Pantsir, Buk, S-300 and S-400 systems work without fail, they are the best in the world, without exaggeration.

But the things we did not pay attention to before, that we thought were just details, some plywood and so on, maybe, small drones that fly around – no, it turned out that these things also cause damage and should not be missed in any case.

Yes, I said, there has been a reaction, that’s clear, it is known, and the men on the battlefield are noting it. There are some fighters here who will receive decorations today – they probably also see it and can talk about it. But nevertheless, we need to work on it.

I would like to draw your attention to a number of priority and systemic tasks.

First. Given the changing nature of military threats and the emergence of new military and political risks, the role of the nuclear triad, which ensures the balance of power, the strategic balance of power in the world, has significantly increased.

This year, thanks to the consistent implementation of the state armament programme and the efficient operation of the defence industry enterprises, the level of modern weapons and equipment in the strategic nuclear forces as a whole has reached 95 percent, and the naval component – almost 100 percent.

By the end of the year, 15 Yars and Avangard missile system launchers will be put into combat service in the strategic missile forces. We have received four submarines, two just recently; last week I accepted the Krasnoyarsk, a multi-purpose nuclear-powered submarine, and the Emperor Alexander III, equipped with Bulava ballistic missiles.

The aviation component is also being upgraded. In particular, four Tu-160M missile carriers have arrived. We must continue to maintain the combat readiness of strategic forces at the highest level. All plans approved in this area will certainly be implemented.

Second, the indicators achieved in re-equipping the nuclear triad are a benchmark for our work on conventional weapons and equipment. New equipment deliveries to the troops have tripled compared to last year. It is expected that, in general, the state defence order will be completed at about 98 percent by the end of 2023. It is necessary to continue sending cutting edge weapons to the troops.

In 2024, the volume of purchases and repairs of weapons and equipment will be significantly increased considering the additional budgetary allocations. It is also necessary to continue creating the foundation for the Army and Navy’s future, including the development and production of promising types of weapons, such as robotic systems and combat lasers, weapons using artificial intelligence technology and based on new physical parameters.

The third most important task is the timely and full supply of everything necessary for the troops participating in the special military operation.

Over the past year, the Coordination Council under the Government and the working group of the Military-Industrial Commission have been working on the implementation of this task. Regional heads and representatives of the defence industry provide effective assistance. And of course, there are results, the supplies to the troops are improving.

I would like to especially note the staff at the defence industry enterprises and workers in related industries, research institutes and design bureaus. They have made real labour breakthroughs. Many companies operate three shifts. They gave their working, engineering, and scientific response to the challenge of the entire potential of the West, which is working to contain Russia, to support the Kiev regime and the war in Ukraine.

Our defence workers are faster – and this is the essence of today’s conflicts. They respond faster and more accurately to the latest developments and to the needs of those who are fighting on the battlefield. I hope this continues.

This year, the volume of supplies of armoured vehicles has increased threefold, and other vehicles by 4.5 times thanks to the effort of the defence industry. In general, the number of purchased basic weapons has increased by 2.7 times, and those in high demand by seven times.

At the same time, I would like you to note that there are representatives of the Government and the leadership of the Defence Ministry here [in the hall]; what is happening on the battlefield must be carefully analysed every day, and we must carefully look at what else our soldiers on the frontline need. We need to constantly analyse this. I have talked about armoured and other vehicles. Yes, the supply of armoured vehicles has tripled. But more are needed. We need advanced tanks and advanced armoured vehicles.

It is important to continue increasing the supplies of the most popular weapons, as I have said, and also create a production line of unmanned aerial vehicles from heavy attack vehicles to ultra-small ones; to engage high-tech businesses and engineering design companies in the development and production. By the way, I want to thank them for this. Many private enterprises, which previously were in no way connected with the defence industry, have started working in certain areas, and are doing this quickly, efficiently, and with high quality. This is great. Many probably did not expect it. Some states are trying to organise the production of seemingly conventional weapons and are failing, but we are succeeding. Thanks to everyone who is working to resolve these problems.

Like a few days ago, during Direct Line, I would like to mention once again the enormous support provided to our military units by many average people, entrepreneurs, and volunteers, as well as representatives of public organisations, parties and company teams, schoolchildren, students, and the elderly. Of course, everything that goes to the front is important to us, but the general consolidation of all the forces of Russian society is no less important – and perhaps even the most important thing. I once again thank everyone who helps our soldiers at the front, transfers money and sends to the frontline vehicles and drones, radiosets and body armour, as well as New Year’s gifts and letters of support, warm clothes, medicines, and much more. This help, this patriotic spirit, this solidarity cannot be overestimated.

Next, the fourth point is, as I have already said, the wide use of the experience gained during the special operation in tactical and combat training, in the teaching process at military universities and academies. I know that this work is ongoing. Programmes and training plans for personnel have been updated, in particular, training modules for using drones have been included in the programmes of all Defence Ministry educational institutions and centres. The educational and material base of training grounds is being upgraded. Instructors with combat experience are being engaged in teaching classes. They need to be engaged in working with military personnel, and also on the civilian side, but this is a separate topic, we will talk about this with our colleagues.

Based on these developments, we need to continue improving the forms and methods for using our troops, specify provisions for combat documents, regulations and manuals, and take account of this experience in preparing and conducting exercises and training sessions at all levels. 

What is there to say to this audience – we understand that nobody in the world has the kind of experience of conducting modern warfare that the Russian army has. But this experience should be used in practical terms to further improve training of our military personnel.

Comrades,

I would like to focus separately on the important issue of prompt material and social support for our participants in the special military operation and their family members. Much has been done in the past year for adjusting the system of monetary allowance for contract service personnel, mobilised personnel, and volunteers and for providing them and their families with additional payments, benefits and other compensation.

At the same time, some problems have not been resolved yet. Some issues remain. In this context, I would like to emphasise again – all participants in the special military operation – servicemen under contract, volunteers, mobilised individuals, fighters of separate units, and the Donbass militia forces whose combat path began as early as 2014 – let me repeat, all defenders of Russia, the families of our fallen heroes, our comrades, should receive equal guarantees. This is a principle of justice and combat brotherhood. 

This applies to the procedure for receiving full status as a combat veteran, which entitles these people and their family members to benefits and additional support measures.

The Defence Ministry, in cooperation with other departments and regions, should promptly resolve any arising problems and ensure that payments are made in full and on time.

And, of course, anyone wounded participants in the special military operation should receive proper medical care, including assistive devices, medical treatment in military sanatoriums, as well as in civilian – the Healthcare Ministry always offers its services and is always open to cooperation with the Defence Ministry.

I will note that in general, the system of benefits, compensation and additional payments in the Armed Forces should and will be further improved. This applies to our work on housing and social programmes for military personnel and the space planning for military towns and garrisons. We will definitely continue our efforts in this area.

Let’s move on to the reports. I am giving the floor to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Go ahead, please.

<…>

Vladimir Putin: Comrades,

We are about to conclude this part of the discussion. As usual, I will say a few words before we wrap it up. It is unlikely that I will say something you have not heard before. Nevertheless, considering the circumstances we are living, working, and fighting a war in, I would be remiss in not mentioning it.

I would like to revisit the causes of the current conflict. The audience we have here is quite knowledgeable, but I still think it is important to highlight certain things again and to point out the reasons for today’s conflict in Ukraine.

Let’s go back to the times when shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West used widespread efforts in Russia to win over our fifth column, which we never stopped propitiating, patting them on the head, and talking to them, trying to steer them to a patriotic path. It does not really matter. There are different people there; let’s not paint everyone with the same brush. Nevertheless, the adversary knew what they were doing it for and knew whom to work with, namely, the fifth column, the terrorist organisations, including international terrorist organisations, and separatists in order to fulfil their goal of breaking down Russia. At the same time, they were equally active in the post-Soviet space, tearing apart the newly formed independent states, the former Soviet republics. A particular emphasis, even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, was placed on Ukraine.

First, based on a series of historical considerations and the fact that many former Nazis had moved to the American continent, particularly Canada and the United States, they worked with them. Entire institutes were created there that focused exclusively on this topic. They were priming themselves. And as soon as the collapse occurred, they went for it full throttle. They worked inside our country and they doubled and tripled their efforts there. Why? Because they always believed that once it had lost its potential, Russia would never regain its previous geopolitical position and would not pose any threat as a competitor, at the least, as a competitor.

They planned to divide Russia into five parts. They did not hide their plans; it was all discussed openly.

The work on Ukraine was conducted separately. Of course, they bet primarily on nationalists. They forgot that these extreme nationalists were former Nazis that collaborated with Hitler. Without a moment’s hesitation, they allowed Ukrainian nationalists to turn these former Nazis into national heroes, including Bandera and the like. We had done everything we could over the decades to develop normal relations with our neighbouring state. We have always said, and I keep saying that this is a fraternal people. However, this adversary acted differently.

Politically, Russia emphasised the southwest [of Ukraine] and this is also common knowledge. Why? Because these are historically Russian regions. They are inhabited, in fact, by Russian people regardless of any stamp in their passports. They have only one native tongue – Russian, and their entire culture and traditions are also Russian, everything. They are our people.

We always focused on this part of Ukraine, and this had important domestic political consequences because it did not allow ultra-nationalists to obtain real power through legal political means. The political forces and leaders that claimed the state’s top positions always had to consider the opinion of the voters in the southeast of Ukraine. This was always the case. Without this, it was impossible to come to power. But as soon as these forces came to power, they immediately forgot about these regions. Nobody thought about their interests or mandates, and the authorities instantly followed in the wake of the extreme nationalists that were active, offensive and aggressive. They also immediately adopted the latter’s domestic political agenda. 

We tried to counter this. How? Primarily with an economic approach, you know that. We sold them energy for next to nothing, gave them loans and encouraged cooperation. Believe me, we did everything to build relations, having gained a lot of patience for this. But no. Relying on these active and aggressive nationalist forces in Ukraine, the West simply did not leave us any chance for this.

But they also realised their inability to achieve their ultimate goals through legal means and to drag all of Ukraine to their side. It just didn’t work out that way. The residents of the southeast went to the polling stations and voted for those who spoke about good relations with Russia. This is what happened in real life. But it didn’t work out. Decade after decade, it never worked out. So what did they eventually choose? A coup d’état.

Indeed, Ukraine was plagued by a host of internal, economic, and social problems, as well as many iniquities. But why the coup? Go to the polls, as we were always told: only through political means and only within the framework of the constitution. Where is all that? I do not feel like making certain gestures here since the camera is on, ok? I am sure you know the gestures I would like to make right now. This is exactly what they showed us. They realised that they wouldn’t be able to steamroll Ukraine using just political means, and they took advantage of the mistakes and miscalculations of the then Ukrainian leadership – again with an emphasis on aggressive nationalist forces – and fomented a coup. It is not clear why they did this. Perhaps, just to put an end to this issue once and for all.

In this sense, they achieved their goals. We had no choice but to support Crimea, or else it would have drowned in blood.

But then the issue of Donbass arose. You know, we tried to negotiate a peaceful solution. Overall, we were ready, under certain conditions outlined in the Minsk agreements, to gradually restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Donbass, in order to keep the local people out of harm’s way and to create proper conditions and guarantees for their safety. That was the whole point of the Minsk agreements.

But if the Ukrainian authorities and their Western handlers had agreed to it, agreed to implement these arrangements, everything would have gradually – I sincerely believe it – would have worked out. But they did not agree to it and unleashed a real war there in 2014.

I am open about it. It is no secret to those who participated in these events: we did nothing but were gradually forced to get involved in order to protect the people and save them from extermination. That is how it all began.

The West, especially the people overseas, enjoyed watching this. In this sense, they outplayed us if I can put it that way. We were compelled to respond to this aggressive position. Later, they simply tossed out the Minsk agreements, said this publicly, and then the Western leaders said it publicly and confessed that this was just a front to revive or rather build up Ukraine’s armed forces.

Why do that? Here comes the second part of their plot. It was to pull Ukraine into NATO. And this is what they kept telling me: what are you concerned about, we will not let them join right now. I said, what about tomorrow? When will this tomorrow come? In a year, two years? Looking at it from the historical perspective and from the strategic interests of the Russian state, even 10 or 15 years are unacceptable. What does “not right now” mean? What about tomorrow? Clearly, their goal was and is to pull Ukraine into NATO.

Let’s go back, I just said this from the rostrum. We have been talking about this the whole time. They said back in 1991 – not an inch eastward. Like hell it’s not an inch. Here they are, at our fence, sticking out here. And they stuck there. They took the Baltic region and all of Eastern Europe. The same question suggests itself – why? There were many alternatives that would have been acceptable to everyone. But the point is simple – I have said this many times and will say it again – to them, a country like Russia is not needed – it’s too big. It should be divided into pieces and subjugated – the same way they are subjugating Europe. I will say a little more about this. 

In short, they basically brought these matters to the point of war. They unleashed the war in 2014, and we had to get involved gradually. Unfortunately, or maybe not, we had no choice, we had to get involved.

At the same time, they took care of another important problem for themselves. They cleared the air for themselves – they had been worried about Russia-Europe rapprochement. This was their concern. They wanted to control the whole show, and they intimidated everyone the whole time – look, this malicious Russia is threatening you! I have talked with many leaders and they asked, why are they scaring us? We realise that Russia is not going to fight Europe. We are not going to fight against them today either. US and NATO leaders keep saying, if Russia wins in Ukraine now, the NATO countries will be next in line. Why do we need these NATO countries? We have never needed them and don’t need them now and won’t need them in the future. Why are they saying this? To encourage them to pay – this is the whole point.

Having reached its current goals, having torn Ukraine away, as they saw it, and having severed Russian-European relations, the United States has achieved what it was after, unfortunately. We simply couldn’t act in any other way – or we should have given up everything and watched them lick their lips while eating up everything that was ours, everything that was originally Russian. But we could not do that, and they realised we could not do it, so they did it on purpose. They deliberately pushed us and Europe into this conflict and reached their goals in this sense by setting Russia and Europe against each other. Now they are also shifting the burden of financial responsibility and the costs for this to Europe.

Meanwhile, the current weak-willed, spineless generation of politicians in Europe cannot oppose it, considering the enormous dependence of their media, their economy and politics. Pick any large media outlet in Europe, and you will find that the ultimate beneficiary is some American foundation, after you sift through three of four layers. Everything is over there, everything is overseas. This comes down to influence over politics. We know that the secret services there get their proponents at a young age, as young students. They are working with these young people, dragging them to the political stardom of the European countries.

But it’s not that simple now; the Europeans are starting to realise what is happening and a certain shift is already taking place in Europe. I am not even referring to the economic problems – they exist and this is reflected not only in the rallies in Europe – it has been recorded in documents. The leading industrial economies of Europe are seeing a decline – they are in a recession.

However, changes are taking place in the political consciousness of many European nations as well. They understand that the United States is shamelessly and ruthlessly exploiting Europe in its own interests and does not care about Europe’s interests at all.

However, this is the choice made by the European nations. We have never interfered, are not interfering and do not plan to interfere in their affairs. But there is something we will certainly do. We will uphold our interests. Because what the Unites States did in Ukraine, as I mentioned earlier, the United States has essentially denied us the chance to build good relations with that country using political means. What they did was a case of utter lawlessness. In 2014, they carried out a coup d’état, and from then on, they continued down that path of lawlessness. They simply forced us to respond to it.

Regarding Europe, the people are becoming increasingly aware that other countries, primarily the United States, are using them to advance their own agendas. Well, their awareness is growing. Good for them, but we are not going to interfere.

Here is what I would like to say in closing: Russia was the only guarantor of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I mentioned this earlier. When creating the Soviet Union, Russia transferred to it vast historical territories, Russian territories, along with the population, a huge potential, and invested immense resources into this land.

The western lands of Ukraine? We know how Ukraine obtained them. Stalin gave them away after World War II. He gave part of Polish lands, Lvov, and so on including several large regions with a population of ten million. Not to offend the Poles, he compensated for their losses by giving them the eastern German lands, the Danzig Corridor, and Danzig itself. He took some from Romania and some from Hungary and gave it to Ukraine.

The people who live there – many of them, at least, I know this for sure, 100 percent – they want to return to their historical homeland. The countries that lost these territories, primarily Poland, dream of having them back.

In this sense, only Russia could be the guarantor of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. If they do not want it, so be it. History will put everything in its place. We will not interfere, but we will not give up what is ours. Everyone should be aware of this – those in Ukraine who are aggressive disposed towards Russia, and in Europe, and in the United States. If they want to negotiate, let them do so. But we will do it only based on our interests.

Of course, Russia will not be able to do this without strong, reliable, well-equipped, and properly motivated Armed Forces. The Armed Forces will not be able to achieve this without a strong economy, without industry in general and the defence industry in particular working like clockwork and, most importantly, without the support of the multi-ethnic people of Russia. You have it all now, and the Motherland expects you to deliver.

Thank you.

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