Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to continue his campaign against Ukraine, warning that if counterattacks continue, a “more serious” military response will be unleashed.
Putin has held out despite strong evidence that his forces suffered heavy losses in the Ukraine counterattack this month.
The Russian leader said that the main objective of the campaign was to “liberate the entire territory of Donbass” – regions of eastern Ukraine including Donetsk and Luhansk, where most of the population speaks Russian.
“The plan is not subject to modification,” Putin said. Our offensive operations in the Donbass itself do not stop. They are moving at a slow pace…the Russian army is occupying newer and newer territories.”
He accused the Ukrainian forces of attempts to carry out “terrorist acts” and damage to the Russian civilian infrastructure.
“We are really limited in our response to this at the moment,” Putin said at a news conference on Friday. “If the situation continues to develop in this way, the response will be even more dire.”
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Schulz spoke with Putin by phone on Tuesday after a hiatus of several months. According to the German government, the conversation lasted 90 minutes.
“The Russian president is pursuing his imperial goal by annexing part of the neighboring lands,” Schulz Tell German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.
Shultz insisted on a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine, telling Putin that it should include a ceasefire, the complete withdrawal of Russian forces, and respect for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty.
He added that German weapons helped make “the difference and made possible the successes, the present successes, that Ukraine is recording.”
Schulz said there was “certainly a movement” in Putin’s tone on the war but it was not significant.
Russia’s “stubborn” defense
Russian forces are establishing a new line of defense in northeastern Ukraine after Kyiv forces breached the previous line, defense officials and analysts said on Saturday.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence briefing that the new defense line is likely to be located between the Oskil River and Svatov, 150 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.
The readjustment to the front line comes after a Ukrainian counter-attack that broke the previous offensive in the war and regained control of swathes of territory in the northeastern Kharkiv region bordering Russia.
The British military said that Moscow “probably considers it important to maintain control of this area as it passes through one of the few major resupply routes that Russia still controls from the Belgorod region of Russia”.
She added that a “stubborn defense of this region” was likely, but it was not yet clear whether the Russians would be able to withstand another coordinated Ukrainian attack.
“Probably very weak.”
Ukrainian forces continue to cross the main Oskil River in the Kharkiv region as they try to advance a counterattack targeting Russian-occupied territories, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
The institute said in its report on Saturday that satellite images it examined indicated that Ukrainian forces crossed the border to the eastern bank of the Oskil River in Kobyansk, and installed artillery there. The river, which flows south from Russia into Ukraine, has been a natural interruption in the newly emerged front lines since Ukraine began pushing it about a week ago.
“It is possible that Russian forces would be too weak to prevent further Ukrainian advances along the entire Oskil River if Ukrainian forces chose to resume offensive operations,” the institute said.
Videos circulating online on Saturday indicated that Ukrainian forces are also continuing to seize territory in the besieged east of the country.
One of the videos showed a Ukrainian soldier walking past a building, its roof destroyed, then pointing over his shoulder at a colleague hanging a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag over a mobile phone tower. The soldier in the video identified the captured village as Dibrova, northeast of the city of Sloviansk and southeast of the besieged city of Lyman in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.
Another video online showed two Ukrainian soldiers in what appeared to be a bell tower. The Ukrainian flag hung when a soldier said they had captured the village of Shkurov, northeast of Sloviansk.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian forces continued to bombard cities and villages with missiles and bombardments.
Closer to victory and peace
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Saturday at a NATO Military Committee meeting that Western military aid to Ukraine was crucial in its fight against the Russian invasion, and that the political will to continue sending it should not falter.
“The ongoing counterattack proves that military assistance brings Ukraine closer to victory and peace. Our focus must be on increasing our aid and delivering weapons to repel Russian aggression as quickly as possible,” Kallas said in a speech.
Admiral Rob Power, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, also praised Kyiv’s recent battlefield successes.
“We are all in awe of the sheer courage of the Ukrainian armed forces and the Ukrainian people time and time again outsmarting their opponent… Winter is coming but our support will remain steadfast. It is abundantly clear that this conflict is bigger than Ukraine. The entire rules-based international system is under attack,” Power said. to attack.