RUSSIAN president Vladimir Putin on Friday (Sept 16) brushed off a lightning Ukrainian counter-offensive with a smile but warned that Russia would respond more forcefully if its troops were put under further pressure.
Speaking after a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in the Uzbek city of Samarkand, Putin cast the invasion as a necessary step to prevent what he said was a Western plot to break Russia apart.
Moscow, he said, was in no hurry in Ukraine, and its goals remained unchanged.
“The Kiev authorities announced that they have launched and are conducting an active counter-offensive operation. Well, let’s see how it develops, how it ends up,” Putin said with a grin.
It was his first public comment on a rout of his forces in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region a week ago that has prompted unusually strong public criticism from Russian military commentators.
Russia hit Ukrainian infrastructure in response – including a reservoir dam and electricity supplies – and Putin said those attacks could get worse.
“Recently, the Russian armed forces have inflicted a couple of sensitive blows. Let’s assume they’re a warning. If the situation continues to develop like this, then the response will be more serious,” he said.
Putin also said Russia was gradually taking control of new areas of Ukraine.
Asked if what he calls the “special military operation” needed correction, he said: “The plan is not subject to adjustment.”
“The general staff considers one thing important, another thing secondary – but the main task remains unchanged, and it is being implemented,” Putin said. “The main goal is the liberation of the entire territory of Donbas.”
The Donbas comprises two largely Russian-speaking provinces of eastern Ukraine – Luhansk, which is now fully under the control of Russian and Russian-backed separatist forces, and Donetsk, which they partially control.
However, Russia now occupies around a fifth of Ukraine in all, including much of the southerly Zaporizhzhia and Kherson provinces, in addition to Crimea, which it seized in 2014 and considers part of Russia.
“Too early to say the tide of war is turning”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine’s northeast and said it was too early to say the tide of the war was turning despite rapid territorial gains by his forces this month.
The Ukrainian leader also told Reuters in an interview that the outcome of the war with Russia, now in its seventh month, hinged on the swift delivery of foreign weapons to his country.
He compared the situation in newly liberated areas of the northeast “to the bloody soap opera after Bucha”, a town near Kyiv where he accused Russian forces of committing numerous war crimes in the first phase of the war. Moscow denied the charges.
“As of today, there are 450 dead people, buried (in the northeastern Kharkiv region). But there are others, separate burials of many people. Tortured people. Entire families in certain territories,” Zelenskiy said.
Asked if there was evidence of war crimes, he said: “All this is there… There is some evidence, and assessments are being conducted, Ukrainian and international, and this is very important for us, for the world to recognise this.”
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Zelenskiy’s new allegations.
Russia regularly denies targeting civilians during what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine and has said in the past that accusations of human rights abuses are a smear campaign. – Sept 17, 2022
Main photo credit: Reuters