Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Thursday that there would be no peace in Ukraine until his goals are achieved and said those objectives remain unchanged.
Offering rare detail on Moscow’s operation, Putin dismissed the need for a second wave of mobilization of reservists, saying at a year-end news conference that there are some 617,000 Russian troops currently in Ukraine, including around 244,000 soldiers who were called up to fight alongside professional Russian military forces.
The Russian president, who has held power for nearly 24 years and announced recently that he was running for reelection, was greeted with applause as he arrived in the hall in central Moscow.
Putin did not hold his traditional news conference last year after his military failed to take Kyiv and as the Ukrainian army recaptured swaths of territory in the east and south of the country. But with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleading for U.S aid, a stalling counteroffensive and reports of fracturing Western support for Ukraine, Putin decided to face the media once more — though the broadcast remains heavily choreographed and more about spectacle than scrutiny.
This year, ordinary citizens had the chance to phone in questions along with those asked by journalists; Russians also submitted questions over the last two weeks. It was the first time Putin, who has heavily limited his interaction with foreign media, potentially faced multiple questions from Western journalists since before the fighting in Ukraine began.
The news conference opened with questions about the conflict in Ukraine and highlighted concerns some Russians have about fears of another wave of mobilization, which has proved unpopular. In September 2022, Putin ordered a partial military call-up as he tried to boost his forces in Ukraine, sparking protests.
“There is no need,” for mobilization now, Putin said, because 1,500 men are being recruited into the Russian army every day across the country. He said that, as of Wednesday evening, 486,000 soldiers have signed a contract with the Russian military.
Putin reiterated that Moscow’s goals in Ukraine — “de-Nazification, de-militarization and a neutral status” of Ukraine — remain unchanged.
He spelled out those objectives the day he sent troops to the country in February 2022.
“De-Nazification” refers to Russia’s allegations that the Ukrainian government is heavily influenced by radical nationalist and neo-Nazi groups — claims derided by Kyiv and the West. Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, is Jewish.
Putin has also demanded that Ukraine remain neutral — and not join the NATO alliance.
“There will be peace when we will achieve our goals,” Putin said.
The Kremlin has repeatedly said that its “special military operation” in Ukraine would continue until those loosely defined goals were achieved.
In addition to skipping his usual call-in show with ordinary Russians and his traditional session with reporters last year, Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation address was delayed until February of this year. His last news conference was in 2021 amid U.S warnings that Russia was on the brink of sending troops into Ukraine.
Putin’s annual appearance is primarily aimed at a domestic audience and is a chance for him to personally resolve the problems of ordinary Russian citizens and reinforce his grip on power ahead of the March 17 election.
Putin fielded questions Thursday from a group of children in Russian-annexed Crimea concerned about the leaking roof and mold in their gymnasium and a woman who, addressing “my favorite president,” complained about the spiking price of eggs.
“I regret and apologize about that — a glitch in the work of the government,” Putin said, explaining that egg production had not matched demand and blaming the government for not increasing imports quickly enough.
State media said that as of Wednesday, about 2 million questions for Putin had been submitted ahead of the broadcast.