Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed on Thursday to press ahead with his incursion into Ukraine despite widespread Western condemnation – as he defended airstrikes targeting critical Ukrainian infrastructure, saying it was “Kiev who started it first”.
“There is a lot of noise, chatter and shouting around the universe,” Putin said. “It does not prevent us from carrying out combat missions.”
He described a series of Russian airstrikes against Ukraine’s energy facilities and other critical infrastructure as legitimate payback by the Kremlin for the Oct. 8 truck bombing of the main bridge connecting Crimea with mainland Russia and other attacks carried out by Ukraine.
Putin also gave the example of cutting off water supplies to Russian-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine.
“There’s a lot of noise right now about our strikes on energy infrastructure,” Putin said at a ceremony in the Kremlin to award soldiers with Gold Star medals. “Yes, we are doing it. But who started it? Who hit the Crimean bridge? Who blew up the power lines connected to the Kursk nuclear power plant?”
The Kerch Strait Bridge is Putin’s $5 billion pet project, which has become a key supply route for Moscow’s forces fighting in Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials have stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for the attacks, hailing their results and pointing to Kiev’s complicity.
Repeated airstrikes on Ukraine’s electricity, water and gas networks left millions of people across the country in the dark without heat as temperatures plunged below freezing.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that it was up to Kiev to end the bloodshed, accepting Moscow’s surrender terms.
“(Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky knows when it will end,” Peskov told reporters. “It can be over tomorrow if he wants to.”
The Kremlin has long said Ukraine must agree to Russia’s terms to end the conflict, now in its tenth month. He demanded that Kiev recognize Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014, as part of Russia, as well as Moscow’s other lands in Ukraine.
Zelensky has repeatedly rejected these terms, saying the war will end only when the occupied territories are liberated or Russian forces leave them.
On Wednesday, Putin acknowledged that it was taking longer than expected to achieve his goals in the conflict, admitting that fighting in Ukraine “could be a long process.”
He described Moscow’s gains on land as “an important result for Russia,” saying, for example, that the Sea of Azov “has become Russia’s inland sea.”
In a conference call with journalists, Peskov said that Moscow does not intend to seize new lands, but that it will try to regain control over the territories that were withdrawn from Ukraine a few weeks after they were annexed to Russia in fake referendums.
After earlier withdrawing from Kyiv and Kharkiv regions, Russian troops last month withdrew from Kherson city and parts of Kherson region, one of four illegally annexed Ukrainian regions.
“There are occupied territories in several new territories of the Russian Federation, which must be liberated,” said Peskov.
Fierce fighting continued on Thursday, mostly in areas annexed by Russia. Zelensky’s office said Wednesday that 11 civilians were killed and 17 wounded in Ukraine.
Donetsk region became the center of the last battles. Russian artillery struck the town of Yampil, northeast of Sloviansk, during the distribution of humanitarian aid to civilians, Ukrainian officials reported.
With post wires