February 7, 2023

Putin says Ukraine fight is taking longer than expected

Putin rejected Western criticism that his previous nuclear weapons comments were tantamount to swordplay, saying they were “not a factor in escalating conflicts, but a factor in deterrence”.

“We are not crazy. We fully know what nuclear weapons are,” Putin said. He did not add: “We have them, and they are more advanced and modern than any other nuclear power.”

In his televised remarks, the Russian leader did not address Russia’s battlefield setbacks or efforts to reassert control over captured territories, but acknowledged problems with supplies, treating wounded soldiers and limited evacuations.

Russian troops have withdrawn not only from Kyiv and the area around the country’s largest city, Kharkiv, but also from much of the Kherson region. Another problem for Putin is attacks this week against air bases deep inside Russia. He recently put much of the country, especially border areas, on security alert, and new signs emerged Wednesday that Russian authorities are strengthening border defense positions.

In the Kursk region on the border with Ukraine, the governor posted photos of new concrete anti-tank barriers – dubbed “dragon’s teeth” – in open fields. On Tuesday, the governor said a fire broke out at an airport in the region after a drone attack. In neighboring Belgorod, workers expanded anti-tank barriers and authorities organized “defence units.” Belgorod has seen several fires and explosions, apparently from cross-border attacks, and its governor announced on Wednesday that Russia’s air defenses had shot down incoming rockets.

In brazen drone strikes, two strategic Russian air bases more than 300 miles from the border with Ukraine were hit on Monday. Moscow blamed Ukraine, which did not take responsibility.

Moscow responded with artillery, multiple rocket launchers, missiles, tanks and mortar attacks on residential buildings and civilian infrastructure. Ukrenergo, the private Ukrainian power utility, said temperatures in eastern parts of the region where repairs had dropped to minus 17 degrees Celsius (near zero Fahrenheit).

At his meeting, Putin discussed the mobilization of the 300,000 reservists he ordered in September to bolster forces in Ukraine. He said that only about 150,000 personnel have been sent to the war zones so far and the rest are still undergoing training. Addressing speculation that the Kremlin could be preparing another mobilization, Putin said: “There is no need for the Defense Ministry and the country to do that.”