MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia would be prepared to talk to Ukraine, the United States and Europe about the future of Ukraine if they wanted to, but that Moscow would defend its national interests.
Putin, who sent troops into Ukraine in 2022, has repeatedly said he would be prepared to talk about peace, though Western officials say he is waiting for the US presidential election in November before making a genuine effort.
“In Ukraine, those who are aggressive towards Russia, and in Europe and in the United States—do they want to negotiate? Let them. But we will do it based on our national interests,” Putin told a meeting of the defense leadership in Moscow.
“We will not give up what is ours,” Putin said, adding that Russia did not intend to fight with Europe.
Russia controls about 17.5% of the territory that was internationally recognized as part of Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and last year said the four additional regions of Ukraine that its troops partially control are part of Russia. Kyiv says it will not rest until every last Russian soldier is ejected from Ukraine.
Russia at war
Putin spoke at a meeting of the defense ministry which was attended by the military top brass, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, as well as Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Alexander Bortnikov.
Russian troops, Putin said, now had the initiative on the battlefield.
“We are not going to abandon the goals of the special military operation,” Putin said, though he added that Russia needed better military communication, reconnaissance, targeting and satellite capability.
He said Russia’s defense industry was responding faster than that of the West and said Russia would continue to upgrade its nuclear forces and keep its combat readiness at a high level.
Russia’s production of tanks has increased since February 2022 by 5.6 times, unmanned aerial vehicles by 16.8 times and artillery shells by 17.5 times, Shoigu said.
He said Russia had taken on 490,000 contract and voluntary soldiers in 2023. Next year, Russia will try to boost that contracted force to 745,000 men.
Russian forces have laid 7,000 sq km of minefields in Ukraine—some up to 600 meters wide, along with 1.5 million anti-tank barriers and 2,000 km of anti-tank ditches, Shoigu said.
Putin said Ukrainian membership of NATO “is not acceptable for Russia in 10 years, and not in 20.” — Reuters