Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said the war in Ukraine could turn into a “long-term process”, adding that achieving all the objectives will take time while pointing to several major gains already won by Moscow.
In televised comments in a meeting with the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights on Wednesday, Putin addressed questions about the duration of hostilities that escalated in late February between Moscow and Kiev.
“Of course, this might be a lengthy process,” Putin said, adding that Moscow had little choice but to intervene in February, to defend the Donbas republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
“These new territories are a major gain for Russia,” the president said. “Even Peter the Great sought access to the Azov Sea, and it is now an internal sea of the Russian Federation.”
“Most importantly, the people who live there showed in a referendum that they want to be in Russia and feel themselves part of our world,” Putin said. “They are now with us, millions of them, and that is the greatest outcome.”
Putin also spoke about the risk of a nuclear war but added that Russia has not “gone mad” and sees its own nuclear arsenal as a purely defensive deterrent.
Warning that the threat of nuclear war in the world is rising, Putin said Russia will defend itself and its allies “with all the means we have if necessary.”
Putin said it was the United States, not Russia, that had deployed “tactical” nuclear weapons in other countries.
The president complained that Western rights organizations viewed Russia as “a second-class country that has no right to exist at all.”
“This is what we are dealing with,” Putin said. “There can be only one answer from our side - a consistent struggle for our national interests. We will do just that. And let no one count on anything else.”
“Yes, we will do this in various ways and means. First of all, of course, we will focus on peaceful means, but if nothing else remains, we will defend ourselves with all the means at our disposal.”
The president said the “special military operation” in Ukraine could be a “long process.”
Putin was responding to comments by a member of the rights council who said Ukrainian forces were shelling residential areas of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region. The president warned results could be a long time coming.
“As for the long process of (seeing) results of the special military operation, of course, this is a lengthy process.”
He praised the announced annexation of four Ukrainian territories into Russia following a referendum. “New territories appeared -- well, this is still a significant result for Russia and this is a serious issue.”
The Russian leader formalized the annexation of the four southern and eastern territories of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia at a ceremony in the Kremlin in September. That same month, Putin announced Russia was mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Russians to bolster Moscow’s force in northeast Ukraine.
On Wednesday, he said half of the Russians called up for military service in September had been deployed to Ukraine. “Out of 300,000 of our mobilized fighters, our men, defenders of the fatherland, 150,000 are in the area of operations.” Some 77,000 were in combat units, he said.
Russia started the campaign in Ukraine on February 24. It says it launched the operation in order to defend the pro-Russian population in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk against persecution by Kiev.
Back in 2014, the two republics broke away from Ukraine, refusing to recognize a Western-backed Ukrainian government there that had overthrown a democratically-elected Russia-friendly administration.
Ever since the beginning of the war, Western countries, led by the United States, have been slapping Russia with a slew of economic sanctions and pumping Ukraine full of advanced weapons, steps that Russia says would only prolong the hostilities.