Putin exits plane after arriving in Belarus
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Vladimir Putin pledged to provide Russian forces with anything they need without financial limit in a twisted speech in which he described the Ukrainian people as “brothers” in spite of his brutal invasion. Speaking to top defence chiefs, the despot said he had no “doubt that all the goals set will be achieved” in Ukraine and vowed his forces would stay there until their “special military operation had been complete”, though he did not explain exactly what those goals were. Putin accused NATO and the West of trying to “disintegrate and weaken our country”.
During his speech, Mr Putin likened the ongoing conflict in Ukraine to a “tragedy”.
It is the latest example of Kremlin attempts to peddle the baseless narrative the operation in Ukraine was not an act of expansionism but a necessary defence against NATO forces.
Putin said: “We always considered the Ukrainian people as brotherly, and I still think so. What’s going on is certainly a tragedy, but it’s not a result of our policy.
“For centuries, our strategic adversaries have been setting the goal to disintegrate and weaken our country … viewing it as too big and posing a potential threat.”
He added that he “does not have any doubt that all the goals set will be achieved” in Ukraine.
As Putin heralded the Russian soldiers in Ukraine as “heroes”, defence minister Sergei Shoigu proposed the size of the Russian military should be expanded to 1.5 million, an increase of half a million.
He said the number should include 695,000 volunteer contract soldiers.
Putin, who signed a decree ordering troop numbers to be increased by 137,000 from January 1, 2023 to reach 1.15 million, as well as ordering the mobilisation of 300,000 reservists in September – rubber stamping both proposals.
Putin said those military changes would be carried out “calmly” and “won’t be rushed”, though he did not specify a date for the increase.
He later acknowledged the previous mobilisation announcement had revealed “certain problems” and such issues needed to be “promptly addressed”.
He said: “The partial mobilisation that was carried out revealed certain problems, as everyone well knows, which should be promptly addressed.
“I ask the Ministry of Defence to be attentive to all civilian initiatives, including taking into account criticism and responding correctly, in a timely manner.
“It is clear that the reaction of people who see problems – and there are always problems in such major, complex work – can be emotional, but we need to hear those who do not hush up the existing problems, but strive to contribute to their solution.”
The Russian leader suggested the hypersonic Sarmat missiles, nicknamed “Satan II”, which were tested this year would be ready for deployment soon.
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His comments came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Washington on Wednesday for a summit with President Joe Biden and an address to Congress in a bid to shore up support for his country and send a defiant message to its Russian invaders.
A US official confirmed a US Air Force jet carrying the Ukrainian leader landed at Joint Base Andrews, just outside the capital.
Mr Zelensky said on his Twitter account before his arrival the visit, his first known trip outside Ukraine since the war began in February, was “to strengthen resilience and defence capabilities” of Ukraine and to discuss cooperation with the United States.
The highly sensitive trip was taking place after 10 months of a brutal war that has seen tens of thousands of casualties on both sides and devastation for Ukrainian civilians.
Just before his arrival, the US announced its largest single delivery of arms to Ukraine, including Patriot surface-to-air missiles, and Congress planned to vote on a spending package that includes about £37 billion ($45 billion) in emergency assistance to Ukraine.
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