Putin jabs at West over Ukraine war, says operation going to plan

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Oct 28 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin is showing no regrets for the war against neighbour Ukraine, insisting it is going to plan and playing down any nuclear standoff with the West.

Putin, in remarks at a conference in Moscow on Thursday, had a familiar litany of grievances against “our Western opponents” and said the West’s dominance over world affairs was coming to an end.

Putin accused the West of inciting the war in Ukraine and of playing a “dangerous, bloody and dirty” game that was sowing chaos across the world. Ultimately, Putin said, the West would have to talk to Russia and other major powers about the future of the world.

Ukrainian servicemen shoot from the seized Russian T-80 tank on a road near the city of Bakhmut, Donetsk area, Ukraine, amid Russian invasion. Russian troops entered Ukraine on 24 February 2022 starting a conflict that has provoked destruction and a humanitarian crisis. EPA-EFE/STR

“We are standing at a historical frontier: Ahead is probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and, at the same time, important decade since the end of World War Two,” the 70-year-old former KGB spy said at an annual foreign policy conference.

The conflict, which began eight months ago with an invasion by Russian forces of neighbouring Ukraine, has killed thousands, displaced millions, shaken the global economy and reopened Cold War-era divisions.

Meanwhile, Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure were forcing electricity cuts in the capital Kyiv and other places, officials said.

The missile and drone attacks would not break Ukrainian spirits, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a Thursday night video address as he stood outside in the dark next to the wreckage of a downed drone.

“Shelling will not break us – to hear the enemy’s anthem on our land is scarier than the enemy’s rockets in our sky. We are not afraid of the dark,” he said.

Early on Friday, the Ukrainian military provided a summary of battlefield action in the southern province of Kherson, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been preparing for weeks for what could be one of the most consequential battles of the war.

Ukrainian forces killed 44 Russian servicemen in the past 24 hours, according to Facebook post by the Ukrainian Armed Forces for the south. Ukrainian artillery and missile forces destroyed an ammunition depot and a hangar with equipment, the statement said.

Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.

Asked at the conference whether there had been any disappointments in the past year, Putin answered simply: “No”, though he also said he always thinks about the Russian lives lost in Ukraine.

In response to questions, Putin made no mention of Russia’s battlefield setbacks in recent months and said Russian aims had not changed.

Russia was fighting to protect the people of the Donbas, he said, referring to an eastern industrial region that comprises two of the four Ukrainian provinces he proclaimed annexed last month.

Fighting has been going on in the Donbas since 2014 between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists. Russia annexed the southern Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

The Kherson provincial capital city of the same name controls both the only land route to Crimea and the mouth of the Dnipro, the river that bisects Ukraine.

NUCLEAR THREAT

In his speech, Putin played down a nuclear standoff with the West, insisting Russia had not threatened to use nuclear weapons and had only responded to nuclear “blackmail” from Western leaders. He and other Russian officials have repeatedly said in recent weeks that Russia could use nuclear weapons to protect its territorial integrity, remarks interpreted in the West as implicit threats to use them to defend parts of Ukraine that Russia claims to have annexed. Scores of countries have condemned the annexations as illegal.

He also repeated Russia’s latest allegation – that Ukraine was planning to use a so-called “dirty bomb” to spread nuclear material, which the United States, Britain and France have called “transparently false”. Putin said the Ukrainians would carry out such an attack to blame Russia.

A suggestion by Kyiv that the Russian charge might mean Moscow plans to detonate a “dirty bomb” itself was false, he said. “We don’t need to do that. There would be no sense whatsoever in doing that,” Putin said.

U.S. President Joe Biden expressed scepticism over Putin’s comment.

“If he has no intention, why does he keep talking about it? Why is he talking about the ability to use a tactical nuclear weapon?” Biden said in an interview with NewsNation.

Washington is preparing a new $275 million package of military assistance for Ukraine to bolster its counteroffensive against Russian forces, a source familiar with the plan said.

KHERSON SHELLING

Fighting on the ground appears to have slowed in recent days, with Ukrainian officials saying tough terrain and bad weather had held up their main advance in Kherson.

On Thursday a close ally of Putin, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, said 23 of his soldiers had been killed and 58 others wounded in a Ukrainian artillery attack this week in Kherson. After the attack, Chechen forces killed about 70 Ukrainians, he said. Reuters was not immediately able to verify his account.

Russian forces shelled Ukrainian positions along the entire line of contact and built fortifications, particularly on the east bank of the Dnipro River, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a Facebook post on Thursday evening.

Russian forces targeted more than 15 localities along the front line, the post said.

Russian forces were enduring shortages of material and equipment, including warm winter clothing, and this had prompted a rise in theft and looting in Russian-occupied areas, it said.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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