Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his provocative 20-minute speech on Wednesday as world leaders gather in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, with many denouncing the Russian invasion.
He criticized the West, saying it had “crossed all lines” by providing weapons systems that could enable Ukraine to strike Russian territory, and insisted that the West’s goal was “to weaken, divide and ultimately destroy Russia”.
Putin said his most important goal of the war – the “liberation” of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region – remained unchanged, and declared his support for the hastily announced referendums on Tuesday that would see the occupied Ukrainian lands become part of Russia.
“Russia cannot abandon the people who live near them to be torn to shreds by torturers and fail to respond to their desire for self-determination,” he said, referring to Ukrainians in the occupied territories, even as reports of torture at the hands of Russian occupying forces continue to come in.
But Mr. Putin has also made clear that his war aims are not just about land or people, but about competition for geopolitical power.
At the end of his speech, he said, “It is from our historical traditions and the fate of our people to stop those who are struggling to dominate the world, and who threaten to dismember us and enslave them in our homeland and our homeland.” “We’ll do that now.”
His comments came a day after Moscow pressed to consolidate its control over Ukrainian lands in the east and south, and suddenly moved to hold referendums for the occupied parts of Ukraine to formally join Russia.
Russian agency officials in four regions – Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhia in the south – announced plans to hold referendums over four days starting on Friday. Russia controls nearly all of the four regions, Luhansk and Kherson, but only a fraction of the other two, Zaporizhzhya and Donetsk.
The scheduling of the vote, which appeared coordinated, followed a rapid advance of Ukrainian forces, who had defeated the Russians from the northeast in recent weeks and are on the offensive in the east and south. Analysts say Russia has lost tens of thousands of soldiers, is struggling to recruit new soldiers and facing an increasing backlash. Even from some alliesBecause of his long bloody invasion.
Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, confirmed in his speech on Wednesday that 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed in the fighting in Ukraine, the first information on casualties among Russian forces since March. Western estimates put the number of Russian casualties much higher, in the tens of thousands.
The partial mobilization came a day after the Russian parliament, in an urgent measure, passed legislation imposing criminal penalties on soldiers for desertion, surrender, or refusal to carry out orders during “mobilization” and “martial law.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was expected to address the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, said in his nightly address ahead of Mr Putin’s broadcast that whatever steps the Russian leader announced – and any “spurious” vote taken in the occupied parts of the Ukraine – his army will continue to fight to expel Russian forces from the country.
“We have the full support of our partners in this,” said Mr. Zelensky. “So let’s keep pressure. Let’s maintain unity. Let’s defend Ukraine. We liberate our land. And we are not showing any signs of weakness.”
US officials have warned for months that Mr. Putin may use sham referendums in occupied territories — many residents have fled amid heavy fighting — to try to legitimize the illegal annexation of parts of Ukraine.
Mark SantoraAnd the Anton Troyanovsky And the Dan Belevsky Contribute to the preparation of reports.