Vladimir Putin has not ruled out peace talks – but says there can be no ceasefire while Russia is under attack from Ukraine.
The Russian president made the comments to journalists after meeting African leaders in St Petersburg. He said Moscow has not rejected talks on Ukraine – and an African peace initiative, or one from China, could be a basis for peace.
However, Putin said that elements of these initiatives “are difficult or impossible to implement.” One element of the African initiative is a ceasefire.
Putin said: “There are provisions of this peace initiative that are being implemented. But there are things that are difficult or impossible to implement.”
“We cannot cease fire when we are under attack.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has rejected a ceasefire, as doing so would leave Russia in control of nearly a fifth of Ukraine. It would also give Putin’s armed forces a chance to regroup.
Instead, Kyiv has launched a major attack on Russian forces as part of its weeks-long counteroffensive, committing thousands of troops to a battle in Ukraine’s southeast, according to western and Ukrainian officials and analysts.
The surge in soldiers and firepower has been centred on the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, a western official said a few days ago. Fighting has intensified in recent weeks at multiple points along the 930-mile frontline as Ukraine deploys western-supplied advanced weapons and western-trained troops against the deeply entrenched Russian forces, who invaded 17 months ago.
Russian president Vladimir Putin on Thursday said fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region has “intensified significantly”. Mr Putin praised the “heroism” with which Russian soldiers have repelled Ukrainian attacks and claimed Moscow’s troops not only destroyed multiple pieces of military equipment but also inflicted heavy losses on Kyiv’s forces.
His claims could not be independently verified. However, Ukraine’s armed forces had reportedly punched through Russian defences and claimed to be ‘destroying the enemy’ with Western weapons. Ukraine’s counteroffensive is a massive military operation, which was likely prepared for months.
Military planners need to orchestrate supplies of ammunition, food, medical supplies and spare parts to the frontline. Ukrainian officials have been mostly silent about battlefield developments since they began early counteroffensive operations, though deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said troops are advancing toward the city of Melitopol in the Zaporizhizhia region.
Though that movement could be a tactical feint and both governments have used disinformation to gain battlefield advantages, such a manoeuvre would be in line with what some analysts predicted. They envisioned a counteroffensive that would try to punch through the land corridor between Russia and the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula, moving towards Melitopol, which is close to the coast of the Azov Sea.
That could split Russian forces into two halves and cut off supply lines to the units located further west. The intense fighting is taking place in areas in the south and east of Ukraine, far from the capital Kyiv, and it was not possible to verify either side’s claims.
The Institute of Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukrainian forces launched “a significant mechanised counteroffensive operation in western Zaporizhzhia region” on Wednesday, adding that they “appear to have broken through certain pre-prepared Russian defensive positions”.
It cited Russian sources, including the Russian defence ministry and several prominent Russian military bloggers. Moscow-appointed head of the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region, Yevgeny Balitsky, said Ukrainian forces on Thursday morning tried unsuccessfully to break through Russian defences in the area.
Kyiv’s forces “suffered significant losses and pulled back to (their) positions”, Mr Balistky said. However, in what appeared to be a precautionary move, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on Thursday banned civilian access to the Arabat Spit, a narrow strip of land linking the annexed peninsula Crimea to the partially occupied Kherson region.
The Kherson region is a key gateway to Crimea. The open-ended ban is needed to contain security threats, the FSB said in a statement quoted by Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti.
US officials, who have provided Kyiv with weapons and intelligence, declined to comment on the latest developments, though they have previously urged patience as Ukraine seeks to grind down the deep Russian defences featuring minefields, trenches and anti-tank obstacles.
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Papua New Guinea that Kyiv’s effort to retake land seized by Russia since its February 2022 full-scale invasion will be “tough” and “long”, with successes and setbacks. And US secretary of state Antony Blinken said “an intense battle” is taking place but declined to provide details.
“We believe that tools, the equipment, the training, the advice that many of us have shared with Ukrainians over many months puts them in good position to be successful on the ground in recovering more of the territory that Russia has taken from Ukraine,” Mr Blinken said during a visit to New Zealand.
The UK’s MoD said Russia has in recent months “likely augmented the force in the south with at least a small number of brand new Ka-52 variants: a heavily modified aircraft, informed by lessons from Russia’s experience in Syria”.
Another key improvement to the Ka-52 fleet, the MoD said, is the “integration of a new anti-tank missile, the Lmur, which has a range of approximately” 9.3 miles. “Ka-52 crews have been quick to exploit opportunities to launch these weapons beyond the range of Ukrainian air defences,” it added.