Putin says there will be no peace in Ukraine until goals are achieved, while offering rare details
MOSCOW (AP) — Emboldened by battlefield gains and flagging Western support for Ukraine, a relaxed and confident President Vladimir Putin said Thursday there would be no peace until Russia achieves its goals, which he says remain unchanged after nearly two years of fighting.
It was Putin’s first formal news conference that Western media were allowed to attend since the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022. The highly choreographed session, which lasted over four hours and included questions from ordinary Russians about things like the price of eggs and leaky gymnasium roofs, was more about spectacle than scrutiny.
But while using the show as an opportunity to reinforce his authority ahead of an election in March that he is all but certain to win, Putin also gave a few rare details on what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
He said that a steady influx of volunteers means there is no need for a second wave of mobilization of reservists to fight in Ukraine — a move that was deeply unpopular. He said there are some 617,000 Russian soldiers there, including around 244,000 troops who were mobilized a year ago to fight alongside professional forces.
“There will be peace when we will achieve our goals,” Putin said, repeating a frequent Kremlin line. “Victory will be ours.”
Putin, who has held power for nearly 24 years and announced last week he is running for reelection, was greeted with applause as he arrived in the hall in central Moscow. He didn’t hold his traditional news conference last year amid setbacks in Ukraine.
But with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleading for more U.S aid amid a stalling counteroffensive and fracturing Western support, he decided to face reporters once more — even though only two Western journalists were called on for questions.
Putin highlighted Russia’s successes in Ukraine and the flagging support by Kyiv’s allies.
“Ukraine today produces nearly nothing, they are trying to preserve something but they don’t produce practically anything themselves and bring everything in for free,” he said. “But the freebies may end at some point and apparently it’s coming to an end little by little.”
Putin noted “an improvement in the position of our troops all along” the front line.
“The enemy has declared a big counteroffensive, but he hasn’t achieved anything anywhere,” he added.
The session dealt mostly with Ukraine and domestic issues, but a few international topics were addressed:
— Putin said he wanted to reach a deal with Washington to free U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich and U.S. businessman Paul Whelan, both held in Russia on espionage-related charges. “We’re not refusing to return them,” Putin said but added an agreement that satisfies Moscow was “not easy.”
— He deplored the death of thousands of civilians in Gaza amid the Israeli-Hamas war, citing U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who called it a “graveyard for children.” He urged greater humanitarian aid, adding that Russia proposed setting up a field hospital in Gaza near the border with Egypt but Israel responded it would be unsafe.
— Asked what he would have told himself from today’s perspective when he started his first term in 2000, Putin said he would have warned against “naivety and excessive trustfulness regarding our so-called partners” in the West.
The 71-year-old leader appeared calm and relaxed during the questions, although he frequently cleared his throat, blaming the air conditioning.
Ordinary citizens submitted questions alongside those from journalists, and Russian media said at least 2 million were sent in advance, giving him a chance to appear personally involved in resolving their problems. That’s especially vital for Putin ahead of the March 17 election.
Irina Akopova of the southern Krasnodar region, who addressed Putin as “my favorite president,” complained about the rising price of eggs. He apologized to her and blamed “a glitch in the work of the government” for not increasing imports quickly enough.
Children in Russian-annexed Crimea asked him about a leaking roof and mold in their sports hall.
Immediately after the show, Russia’s main criminal investigation agency declared it had launched inquiries into alleged wrongdoing by local authorities in regions whose residents asked Putin to resolve their problems.
That included a disruption in water supplies to the village of Akishevo in western Russia, the lack of transport link to the village of Serebryanskoye in the southwestern Volgograd region, and in the Crimean village where the children complained about the leaking roof.
Although he has taken some questions from reporters at smaller events and foreign trips, Putin’s last big news conference was in 2021 as the U.S warned that Russia was about to move into Ukraine. He delayed an annual state-of-the-nation address until February 2023.
Since then, relations with the West have plunged to new lows amid the conflict in Ukraine.
He claimed Ukraine’s attempt to create a bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River had fizzled and Kyiv suffered heavy losses, saying its government was sacrificing its troops in order to show some success to its Western sponsors as it seeks more aid, a tactic he called “stupid and irresponsible.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller responded by saying that Putin “still wishes to conquer Ukraine” but the belief that Russia would outlast the West or the United States was wrong.
Putin’s news conference also highlighted concerns some Russians have about another wave of mobilization.
“There is no need” for mobilization now, Putin said, because 1,500 men are recruited as volunteers every day. As of Wednesday, 486,000 soldiers have signed contracts with the military, he said.
His remarks about another mobilization were met with skepticism by some independent Russian media, which noted he had promised not to draft reservists for Ukraine and then reversed course and ordered a “partial” call-up. The move, which he announced in September 2022, prompted thousands of Russians to flee the country.
He reiterated that Moscow’s goals in Ukraine — “de-Nazification, de-militarization and a neutral status” of Ukraine — remain unchanged. He had spelled out those loosely defined objectives the day he sent in troops February 2022.
The claim of “de-Nazification” refers to Russia’s false assertions that Ukraine’s government is heavily influenced by radical nationalist and neo-Nazi groups — an allegation derided by Kyiv and the West.
He reaffirmed his claim that much of today’s Ukraine, including the Black Sea port of Odesa and other coastal areas, historically belonged to Russia and were given away by Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.
While Moscow had accepted the new reality after the USSR’s collapse in 1991, Putin said he was forced to respond to what he described as an attempt by the West to turn Ukraine into a tool to challenge and threaten Russia.
“Russians and Ukrainians are one people, and what’s going on now is a huge tragedy, a civil war between brothers who have found themselves on the opposite sides,” he added.
Some journalists who lined up for the news conference in freezing temperatures for hours to enter the hall wore traditional dress, including elaborate hats, to catch his eye. Many held identifying placards.
Although the event is tightly controlled, some online questions that Putin ignored appeared on screens in the hall.
“Mr. President, when will the real Russia be the same as the one on TV?” one text message said, apparently referring to the Kremlin’s control over the media that portrays Putin positively and glosses over the country’s problems.
Another read: “I’d like to know, when will our president pay attention to his own country? We’ve got no education, no health care. The abyss lies ahead.”
Putin was asked by an artificial intelligence version of himself, speaking with his face and voice, on whether he uses body doubles — a subject of intense speculation by some Kremlin watchers. Putin brushed off the suggestion.
“Only one person should look like myself and talk in my voice — that person is going to be me,” he said, deadpanning: “By the way, this is my first double.”
This story has been updated to correct that 244,000 is the number of troops called up to fight and are in Ukraine, not the total number there.
Associated Press writers Emma Burrows in London and Dasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed.
A Russian missile attack on Kyiv injures more than 50 people as Ukraine pleads for more Western help
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A barrage of Russian missiles targeted Kyiv on Wednesday, wounding at least 53 people, officials said, as the Ukrainian president sought more military support in Europe after a trip to Washington secured no new pledges.
Loud explosions rocked Ukraine’s capital at 3 a.m. as the city’s air defenses were activated for the second time this week. Ukraine’s air force said Russia launched 10 ballistic missiles toward Kyiv and all were intercepted by air defenses, but their debris struck homes and a children’s hospital.
The attack underscored the continuing threat to Ukraine from the Kremlin’s missile arsenal in the 21-month war. Russia has been stockpiling its air-launched cruise missiles from its heavy bomber fleet, according to a recent assessment by the U.K. Ministry of Defense.
That may herald another heavy winter bombardment of Ukraine’s power grid. Moscow last year targeted energy infrastructure in an effort to deny Ukrainians heat, light and running water and break their fighting spirit.
As winter sets in and hinders troop movements, allowing little change along the front line, long-range air bombardment plays a growing role.
Ukraine has dwindling supplies of air defense munitions and other ammunition. That prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to visit Washington on Tuesday in an effort to persuade lawmakers to approve President Joe Biden’s request for $61.4 billion for Ukraine. His trip accomplished no breakthrough.
Zelenskyy said on Telegram that he and Biden agreed to work on increasing the number of air defense systems in Ukraine. “The terrorist state has just demonstrated how crucial this decision is,” Zelenskyy said, referring to the overnight strikes.
On Wednesday, he met in Oslo with Nordic leaders who feel keenly the potential threat from nearby Russia and are among Kyiv’s staunchest supporters.
Zelenskyy may also attend a European Union summit on Thursday in Brussels, where the continent’s leaders are expected to discuss their backing for Ukraine. Officials did not confirm such a trip.
“Russia is eager to exploit divisions,” the senior leaders from Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden said in a joint statement in Oslo. “We must continue to stand united against Russia’s illegal and immoral war.”
They vowed “comprehensive assistance” for Ukraine. “Now is not the time to tire,” the Nordic leaders said, amid signs of war fatigue among Kyiv’s foreign supporters.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said her government will unveil a Ukraine support package of almost 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) this week. Norway announced it will give additional air defenses to Ukraine, taking them from its own stocks to ensure speedy delivery.
Separately, Latvia and Ukraine announced an agreement on the production of drones, a key part of the war.
In the overnight missile attack, debris from the intercepted weapons fell in Kyiv’s eastern Dniprovskyi district, injuring dozens of people, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Kitschko said on Telegram. Twenty people, including two children, were hospitalized, and 33 people received medical treatment on the spot.
An apartment building, a private house and several cars caught fire, while the windows of a children’s hospital were shattered, Klitschko said. Falling rocket debris also damaged the water supply system in the district.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, 10 Russian drones were shot down, most of them in the Odesa region, the Ukrainian air force said.
In other developments, a “hacktivist” group called SoIntsepek claimed responsibility for a major cyberattack Tuesday against Ukrainian internet and cell phone provider Kyivstar, which serves more than 24 million mobile customers across the country.
The Google-owned U.S. cybersecurity firm Mandiant said SoIntsepek regularly claims credit for the activity of the Russian hacking team known as Sandworm, part of the GRU military intelligence agency.
“The persona was probably fabricated by the GRU to launder their operations publicly,” Mandiant threat analyst John Hultquist said in an emailed statement, adding that Sandworm is responsible for “most major disruptive cyberattacks we know about.”
A Kyivstar spokeswoman said the company hoped to restore all service by end of Wednesday but the network integrity company Kentik Inc. said only a fraction had been restored by the afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a report that Russian forces this year have “continued to use explosive weapons with wide area effects in their attacks on densely populated urban areas of Ukraine … both in areas close to heavy fighting and in cities far from the contact line.”
The governmental organization added in the report published Wednesday that Ukrainian armed forces, though on a much smaller scale, also shelled populated areas of Ukraine that are occupied by Russia, causing civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
Associated Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, and Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Russia halts wartime deal allowing Ukraine to ship grain. It’s a blow to global food security
LONDON (AP) — Russia on Monday halted a breakthrough wartime deal that allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where hunger is a growing threat and high food prices have pushed more people into poverty.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Black Sea Grain Initiative would be suspended until demands to get Russian food and fertilizer to the world are met. An attack Monday on a bridge connecting the Crimean Peninsula to Russia was not a factor in the decision, he said.
“When the part of the Black Sea deal related to Russia is implemented, Russia will immediately return to the implementation of the deal,” Peskov said.
Russian representatives at the operation center for the initiative were more definitive, calling the decision “a termination,” according to a note obtained by The Associated Press. Russia has complained that restrictions on shipping and insurance have hampered its agricultural exports, but it has shipped record amounts of wheat since last year.
The suspension marks the end of an accord that the U.N. and Turkey brokered last summer to allow shipments of food from the Black Sea region after Russia’s invasion of its neighbor worsened a global food crisis. The initiative is credited with helping reduce soaring prices of wheat, vegetable oil and other global food commodities.
Ukraine and Russia are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food that developing nations rely on.
The suspension of the deal sent wheat prices up about 3% in Chicago trading, to $6.81 a bushel, which is still about half what they were at last year’s peak. Prices fell later in the day.
Some analysts don’t expect more than a temporary bump in food staples traded on global markets because countries such as Russia and Brazil have ratcheted up wheat and corn exports. But food insecurity worldwide and prices at local stores and markets have risen as developing countries also struggle with climate change, conflict and economic crises. Finding suppliers outside Ukraine that are farther away also could raise costs, analysts say.
The grain deal provided guarantees that ships would not be attacked entering and leaving Ukrainian ports, while a separate agreement facilitated the movement of Russian food and fertilizer. Western sanctions do not apply to Moscow’s agricultural shipments, but some companies may be wary of doing business with Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he wanted to keep the initiative going even without Russia’s safety assurances for ships.
“We are not afraid,” he said, adding that shipping companies told him “everyone is ready to continue supplying grain” if Ukraine and Turkey were on board.
The Russian Foreign Ministry again declared the northwestern Black Sea area “temporarily dangerous.” Sergei Markov, a Moscow-based pro-Kremlin political analyst, speculated that if Ukraine doesn’t heed the warnings, Russia could strike Ukrainian ports or place mines in shipping routes.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative has allowed three Ukrainian ports to export 32.9 million metric tons of grain and other food to the world, according to the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul.
Russia has repeatedly complained that the deal largely benefits richer nations. JCC data shows that 57% of the grain from Ukraine went to developing nations, with the top destination being China, which received nearly a quarter of the food.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the end of the deal will result in more human suffering but that the U.N. would keep working to ensure the flow of supplies from Ukraine and Russia.
“There is simply too much at stake in a hungry and hurting world,” Guteres told reporters.
Ukraine can still export by land or river through Europe, but those routes have a lower capacity and have stirred divisions among its neighbors.
In a post late Monday on his Telegram channel, Zelenskyy said he and Guterres agreed “to work together and with the responsible states” to restore food supplies via the Black Sea.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby blasted Moscow for pulling out of the deal and said the decision would “harm millions of vulnerable people around the world.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said officials were talking with Russia and that he hoped the deal would be extended.
The agreement was renewed for 60 days in May, but the amount of grain and number of vessels departing Ukraine have plunged, with Russia accused of preventing new ships from participating since June 27. The last ship left Ukraine on Sunday and was inspected Monday.
Ukraine said its forces shot down Russian drones and cruise missiles targeting the Black Sea port of Odesa in what Moscow called “retribution” for an attack that damaged a crucial bridge to the Crimean Peninsula.
The bridge connecting Crimea and Russia carries heavy significance for Moscow, both logistically and psychologically, as a key artery for military and civilian supplies and as an assertion of Kremlin control of the peninsula it illegally annexed in 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview published Sunday that Russia has a “sufficient stockpile” of cluster munitions, warning that Russia “reserves the right to take reciprocal action” if Ukraine uses the controversial weapons.
Serbian authorities have allowed into the country a Russian antiwar activist who was previously denied entry and had spent more than one day at the Belgrade airport.
Here’s the latest for Monday July 17th: More extreme heat across U.S.; Devastating floods in Northeast; Officials in Crimea say Ukraine attacked bridge; Suspect killed in shootout with Georgia authorities.
The war in Ukraine sent food commodity prices to record highs last year and contributed to a global food crisis, which was also tied to other conflicts, the fallout from the pandemic and climate factors.
High grain prices in countries like Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions more people into poverty or food insecurity.
Rising food prices affect people in developing countries disproportionately, because they spend more of their money on meals. Poorer nations that depend on imported food priced in dollars also are spending more as their currencies weaken and they are forced to import more because of climate change.
Under the deal, prices for wheat and other commodities have fallen, but food was already expensive before the war in Ukraine, and the relief hasn’t trickled down to kitchen tables.
“Countries such as Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia are dependent on food imports from Ukraine, so it does hamper availability and accessibility to food,” said Shashwat Saraf, the International Rescue Committee’s regional emergency director for East Africa.
Now, it’s key to watch whether Russia “weaponizes” its wheat exports, said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.
As the world’s current largest wheat supplier, Russia could hike its export taxes, which “would raise world grain prices as well as allow Russia to finance more of its military campaign in Ukraine,” Evenett said. He noted that Moscow already raised them slightly this month.
The grain deal has faced setbacks since it was brokered. Russia pulled out briefly in November before rejoining and extending the deal.
In March and May, Russia would only renew for two months, instead of the usual four. Joint inspections meant to ensure vessels carry only grain and not weapons have slowed considerably.
The amount of grain shipped per month has fallen from a peak of 4.2 million metric tons in October to over 2 million metric tons in June.
Meanwhile, Russia’s wheat shipments hit all-time highs following a large harvest. The country exported 45.5 million metric tons in the 2022-2023 trade year, with another record of 47.5 million metric tons expected in 2023-2024, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.
Associated Press reporters Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv, Ukraine, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Andrew Wilks in Istanbul contributed.
See AP’s complete coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine and the food crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/food-crisis.