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President Vladimir Putin has challenged the West to try and defeat Russia “on the battlefield” and said Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine marked a shift to a “multi-polar world”.
The Russian leader said on Thursday that Russia had barely gotten started in terms of its war in Ukraine and dared the West to try to defeat it in warfare, while also insisting that Moscow was still open to the idea of peace talks.
In a hawkish speech on Thursday to parliamentary leaders more than four months into Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin said the prospects for any negotiation would grow dimmer the longer the conflict dragged on.
“Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. What can you say? Let them try,” Putin said.
“We have heard many times that the West wants to fight us to the last Ukrainian. This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but it seems that everything is heading towards this,” he said.
Russia has accused the West of waging a proxy war against it by hammering the Russian economy with sanctions and stepping up the supply of advanced weapons to Ukraine.
But while boasting that Russia was just getting into its stride in terms of the war, Putin also referred to the possibility of negotiations.
“Everyone should know that, by and large, we haven’t started anything yet in earnest,” he said.
“At the same time, we don’t reject peace talks. But those who reject them should know that the further it goes, the harder it will be for them to negotiate with us.”
Putin said it was obvious that Western sanctions were creating difficulties, “but not at all what the initiators of the economic blitzkrieg against Russia were counting on”.
Putin’s comments were the first reference to diplomacy in many weeks after repeated statements from Moscow that negotiations with Kyiv had totally broken down.
Since invading Ukraine on February 24, Russian forces have captured swathes of the country, including completing the seizure of the eastern region of Luhansk on Sunday.
But the progress of Russian forces has been far slower than many analysts predicted, and they were beaten back in initial attempts to take the capital, Kyiv, and Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv.
Prospects for compromise appear remote as Ukraine, emboldened by Western support and the heavy losses it has inflicted on its opponent in terms of both men and equipment, has spoken of driving Russia out of all the territory it has seized since 2014.
Ukraine’s chief negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Twitter this week that conditions to resume talks with Moscow would include the following: “Ceasefire. Z-troops withdrawal. Returning of kidnapped citizens. Extradition of war criminals. Reparations mechanism. Ukraine’s sovereign rights recognition.”
Parliamentary leaders responded to Putin’s comments on Thursday with one, Sergei Mironov of the A Just Russia party, encouraging him to set up a special agency to facilitate the integration of occupied Ukrainian territories into Russia – an idea that Putin promised to discuss.