- The candid speech at the main family festival puts the war center stage
- Putin views war as a fight for survival that requires sacrifices
- Russia “defends our people and our historical land”
- The president accuses the West of fomenting the conflict
(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin devoted his annual New Year’s address on Saturday to rallying the Russian people to support his forces fighting in Ukraine and vowing victory over Ukrainian “neo-Nazis” and a West supposedly bent on “destroying Russia”.
In a stern and deadly recorded video message, broadcast on national television, Putin described the war – which he calls a “military special operation” – as a quasi-existential fight for Russia’s future.
Its soldiers, he said, are fighting for “our fatherland, truth and justice… so that Russia’s security can be guaranteed.”
For months, the Kremlin has presented the conflict as a limited campaign that will not affect the lives of most Russians.
But the speech, delivered before gloomy soldiers in combat fatigues, put the war center stage, telling families gathered for the main celebration of the year that the months ahead will require support and sacrifice from all.
The message was broadcast into millions of homes on state television just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones, as families ate a festive meal and exchanged gifts.
As the war nears its 11th month with no end in sight, the Kremlin has slowly put society more slowly on a war footing — calling up more than 300,000 reservists, often in chaotic fashion, and retooling an economy battered by a barrage of Western and Western sanctions. Saying publicly that the conflict may be long.
We will win
Moscow was not ready for the fierce resistance and billions of dollars in Western weapons that turned the tide in favor of Ukraine, forcing Russian forces to leave more than half of the territory they occupied in the first weeks of the war.
In the nine-minute speech — the longest he has been in power for 22 years — Putin took aim at those opposed to the conflict, a personal crusade that now defines his tenure and Russia’s relations with the world.
He said the past year had “put a lot of things in place – clearly separating courage and heroism from betrayal and cowardice”.
Rejecting Kyiv’s calls for Russian forces to leave as a prelude to negotiations, Putin said Russia was “defending our people and our historical lands”.
He also accused the West of lying to Russia and provoking Moscow to launch its military campaign.
“The West lied about peace,” Putin said. “It was preparing for aggression… Now they are cynically taking advantage of Ukraine and its people to weaken and divide Russia,” he added.
We have never allowed this and we will not allow anyone to do that to us.”
Kyiv and the West reject Putin’s repeated claims that NATO plans to use Ukraine as a platform to threaten Russia, and say he has waged a baseless war of aggression in an attempt to seize territory and install a regime more pleasing to him.
Although Russia has not made any significant gains on the battlefield in the past six months, Putin has promised ultimate victory.
“Together we will overcome all difficulties and preserve the greatness and independence of our country,” he said.
We will win for our families and for Russia.
Reporting by Jake Cordell. Editing by Kevin Levy
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