‘The sooner, the better’: Scepticism over Putin’s claim he wants end to war in Ukraine

Washington/Kyiv: Moscow says that Ukraine acquiring Patriot missiles from the United States, announced during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington, won’t help settle the conflict or prevent Russia from achieving its goals.

Though the Patriot air defence system is widely regarded as advanced, President Vladimir Putin dismissed it as “quite old”, telling reporters Russia would find a way to counter it. At the same time, he said Russia wants an end to the war in Ukraine and that this would inevitably involve a diplomatic solution.

Russian President Vladimir PutinCredit:AP

“Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” Putin told reporters. “We will strive for an end to this, and the sooner the better, of course.”

These comments drew quick US scepticism. White House spokesman John Kirby said Putin had “shown absolutely zero indication that he’s willing to negotiate” an end to the war that began with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“Quite the contrary,” Kirby told reporters during an online briefing. “Everything he (Putin) is doing on the ground and in the air bespeaks a man who wants to continue to visit violence upon the Ukrainian people (and) escalate the war.”

Russia has persistently said it is open to negotiations, but Ukraine and its allies suspect a ploy to buy time after a series of Russian battlefield defeats and retreats that have swung the momentum of the 10-month war in favour of Kyiv.

Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an armoured vehicle near Bakhmut.Credit:AP

Zelensky returned to Ukraine buoyed by the support shown by President Joe Biden on his trip to Washington, his first foreign journey since Russia invaded its neighbour.

“We are coming back from Washington with good results. With something that will really help,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.

‘Not conducive’

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that there had been no signs of readiness for peace talks during Zelensky’s visit, proving that the United States was fighting a proxy war with Russia “to the last Ukrainian”.

“This is not conducive to a speedy settlement, quite the contrary,” Peskov said of the Patriot system. “And this cannot prevent the Russian Federation from achieving its goals during the special military operation”, using Russia’s term for a war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris hold open a Ukrainian flag that was presented to them by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.Credit:AP

Zelensky told Congress that US aid to his country was an investment in democracy as he invoked battles against the Nazis in World War Two to press for more assistance against Russia’s invasion.

He said the Patriot system was an important step in creating an air shield.

“This is the only way that we can deprive the terrorist state of its main instrument of terror – the possibility to hit our cities, our energy,” Zelensky told a White House news conference, standing next to Biden.

Zelensky’s comments in Washington came with Republicans – some of whom have voiced increasing scepticism about sending so much aid to Ukraine – set to take control of the US House of Representatives from Democrats on January 3.

Congress moved closer on Thursday to approving an additional $44.9 billion in emergency military and economic assistance, part of a wider US government spending bill. That is on top of some $50 billion already sent to Ukraine this year.

The Biden administration announced another $1.85 billion in military aid for Ukraine, including the Patriot system, on Wednesday as Zelenskiy began his visit.

Zelensky met Polish President Andrzej Duda for talks on Thursday on his way home. Poland – which shares a roughly 500-kilometre (310-mile) border with Ukraine – has registered more than 1.5 million refugees from its eastern neighbour since the war began, the most of any European Union nation.

Wagner Group

The White House said on Thursday (Friday AEDT) that a private Russian military company, the Wagner Group, took delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine, a sign of the group’s expanding role in that conflict.

The Russian and North Korean missions to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Zelensky’s aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, said before Putin’s remarks that the United States had “finally pinpointed the baseline” in the conflict.

“1. Russia must lose. 2. No ‘territory in exchange for pseudo/world’ compromises. 3. Ukraine will receive all necessary military aid. As much as possible. 4. No one cares about Russia’s ‘talk to us’ hysteria…,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine has come under repeated Russian aerial strikes targeting its energy infrastructure in recent weeks, leaving millions without power or running water in the dead of winter.

Zelensky congratulated electrical workers for working round the clock, trying to keep the lights on as they marked Power Engineers’ Day on Thursday, a day after the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.

Fight for Bakhmut

Moscow proclaimed it had annexed four provinces of Ukraine – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – after holding so-called referendums in September that were rejected as bogus and illegal by Kyiv and the West.

Russian forces hold almost all of Luhansk but only around 60% of Donetsk, both in the east. Since August, they have been bogged down in a costly, extended fight for Bakhmut, a Donetsk region industrial town with a pre-war population of some 70,000.

Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov said on Thursday the frontline in Ukraine was stable, and that Moscow’s forces had concentrated on “completing the liberation of the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic”.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited army units fighting in Ukraine, state-owned news agency RIA reported on Thursday, citing the ministry. It did not say where.


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