Putin says Russia is just getting started in Ukraine, and peace talks will get more difficult with time

  • Putin takes an aggressive tone but hints at an opportunity for diplomacy
  • The Kremlin chief dares the West to try to beat Russia on the battlefield
  • He says sanctions are causing problems, but not to the extent intended

LONDON (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia had barely started in Ukraine and the West dared try to defeat it on the battlefield, while insisting that Moscow remained open to the idea of ​​peace talks.

In a tough address to parliament leaders after more than four months of war, Putin said the prospects for any negotiations would grow more murky the longer the conflict dragged on.

“We hear today that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. What can you say, let them try,” he said.

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“We have heard many times that the West wants to fight us to the last of Ukraine. This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but everything seems to be heading towards this.”

Russia accuses the West of waging a proxy war against it by imposing sanctions on its economy and ramping up the supply of advanced weapons to Ukraine.

But while he was bragging that Russia was only following in his footsteps, Putin also hinted at the possibility of negotiations.

“Everyone should know that, in general, we haven’t started anything in earnest,” he added. “At the same time, we do not reject peace talks. But those who reject them should know that the further you progress, the more difficult it will be for them to negotiate with us.”

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This was the first sign of diplomacy in many weeks after repeated statements from Moscow that negotiations with Kyiv had completely broken down.

Since invading Ukraine on February 24, Russian forces have captured vast swathes of the country, including completing the capture of the eastern Luhansk region last Sunday.

But their progress was much slower than many analysts expected, and they were defeated in the initial attempts to capture the capital, Kyiv, and the second city, Kharkiv.

The prospects for a settlement seem remote as Ukraine, emboldened by Western support and the heavy losses it inflicted on its opponent in terms of men and equipment, has spoken of driving Russia out of all the lands it has captured.

Ukraine’s chief negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Twitter this week that his conditions for resuming talks would include: “Ceasefire. Withdrawal of Z forces. Return of kidnapped citizens. Extradition of war criminals. Reparations mechanism. Recognition of Ukraine’s sovereign rights.”

Putin said it was clear that Western sanctions were creating difficulties, “but not at all what the initiators of the blitzkrieg economic war against Russia were counting on.”

Parliamentary leaders responded to Putin’s comments and one of them, Sergei Mironov of the Just Russia party, encouraged him to create a special agency to facilitate the integration of occupied Ukrainian lands into Russia – an idea that Putin promised to discuss.

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Additional reporting by Ronald Popesky. Editing by Leslie Adler

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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