Putin has promised to continue his strikes in Ukraine, ignoring the West
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Kremlin said Thursday that it is up to Ukraine’s president to end the conflict in the country, offering terms that Kiev has repeatedly rejected, while Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to continue fighting despite Western criticism.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “(Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky knows when this will end, if he wants, it can end tomorrow.”
Peskov spoke Thursday as Russia freed American basketball star Brittney Griner in a high-profile prisoner swap, while the United States freed a Russian arms dealer. The Griner case has become a major turning point in US-Russian diplomacy amid deteriorating relations caused by the war in Ukraine.
The Kremlin has long said Ukraine must agree to Russia’s terms to end the fighting, now in its tenth month. He demanded that Kiev recognize Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014, as part of Russia, as well as recognize other land acquisitions by Moscow.
Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have repeatedly rejected those terms, saying the war will end when the occupied territories are retaken or Russian forces leave them.
Putin admitted on Wednesday that fighting in Ukraine “could be a long process”. He assessed Moscow’s land gain as “an important result for Russia” and said that the Sea of Azov has “turned into Russia’s internal sea”.
Peskov said at a conference with journalists that Moscow does not intend to seize new lands. But he added that Russia would try to regain control of the areas it withdrew from within weeks of joining the hastily-arranged referendums in Ukraine – something Ukraine and the West do not see as an illegal deception. Last month, Russian troops withdrew from the city of Kherson and part of Kherson Oblast, one of the four illegally annexed regions of Ukraine.
“There are occupied territories in several new regions of the Russian Federation that need to be liberated,” Peskov said.
Putin vowed on Thursday to achieve his goals in Ukraine regardless of the West’s reaction.
“We just have to act, and there’s a lot of noise, chatter and noise all over the universe,” Putin said. “It will not prevent us from carrying out combat missions.”
He described Russia’s series of strikes against Ukraine’s energy facilities and other key infrastructure as a legitimate response to the bombing of the main bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland, and other attacks, according to the Kremlin, were carried out by Ukraine. Putin also cited Ukraine’s decision to cut off water supplies to Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.
“Now there is a lot of noise about our strikes on our energy infrastructure,” Putin said in a meeting with soldiers who were awarded the country’s highest medals. “Yes, we did. But who started it? Who shot down the Crimean bridge? Who blew up the power lines connecting to the Kursk nuclear power plant?”
Putin particularly assessed the activity of the Russian Air Force as “very effective”.
“The Air Force was very good,” he said. “He made a significant contribution to the effectiveness of the movement of the army.”
Heavy fighting continued on Thursday, mainly in areas annexed by Russia. Zelensky’s office said on Wednesday that 11 civilians were killed and 17 wounded in Ukraine.
Donetsk region has been the epicenter of recent fighting. Ukrainian officials said that during the distribution of humanitarian aid to civilians, Russian artillery attacked the center of the city of Yampil, northeast of Sloviansk.
In the city of Kurakhove, 35 kilometers west of the regional capital Donetsk, the city center buildings were damaged, apart from a market and a bus station, officials said.
Despite Moscow’s intention to capture the entire Donbass region bordering Russia, more than a dozen towns and villages in the region, including the city of Bakhmut, which remained in Ukrainian hands during the war, were bombed.
In other developments:
— The International Committee of the Red Cross announced on Thursday that its representatives visited Ukrainian prisoners of war on the Russian side. International observers were previously not allowed to see them.
“Last week, the ICRC conducted a two-day visit to Ukrainian prisoners of war, and another visit took place this week. At the same time, Russian prisoners of war were visited,” the organization said in a statement. The Red Cross checked the conditions of the prisoners, gave them books, personal hygiene items, blankets and warm clothes, and contacted their relatives.
“We can check how POWs are being treated and give their families the latest information. I expect that these visits will provide more regular access to all prisoners of war,” ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric said without commenting or elaborating on the treatment of prisoners.
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E. Eduardo Castillo, Associated Press