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Putin says Ukraine counteroffensive has ‘no chance’ at Economic Forum

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin concluded what was for him an extraordinary and sometimes rambling week of optimistic comments on the war in Ukraine by saying on Friday that Russia was so certain of winning against the Ukrainian counteroffensive that he ruled out the use of nuclear weapons.

Abandoning what had been a strict avoidance of discussing the war in detail, Mr Putin told an audience of Russia’s business elite, gathered for the annual St Petersburg International Economic Forum, that Ukraine had no “no chance” against Russian forces and signaled that its Western backers would tire of the conflict and stop supplying arms, ending Kiev’s war effort.

Yet Mr Putin’s claims of success in the face of repeated setbacks seemed to antagonize a small, growing chorus of critics. They point to the counteroffensive, drone attacks on Moscow, incursions by pro-Ukrainian militias into southern Russia and cross-border bombings of Russian cities as evidence that things could get out of control.

That might explain why Mr. Putin was careful this week to present himself as a practical and knowledgeable commander-in-chief, even saying at one point on Friday that “right now” the Ukrainians were attacking with two tanks here and five tanks there. But his strategy of proclaiming success while eliminating problems with key military elements like smart weapons or border protection is a contradiction, say his critics, that cannot last forever.

“The Russian army has gone completely on the defensive, and all its achievements are measured only by the fact that it has not yet retreated much,” wrote one critic, Alfred Kokh, a former Russian deputy prime minister and opposition politician, in a comment on Facebook. “All the while, he’s been explaining the same thing: it’s not his fault. It was the Ukrainians themselves, NATO, the Americans, he was just forced, it was not he who attacked, it was necessary.

Mr Putin was pugnacious and downright mean at times, particularly when defaming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “I had many Jewish friends from childhood,” Mr. Putin said. “They say Zelensky is not Jewish. He is a disgrace to the Jewish people.

He then repeated his false claims about Ukraine as a nest of Nazi sympathizers. Mr Putin has often tried to justify his invasion of Ukraine by portraying it as an extension of the Soviet Union’s epic defeat by the Nazis in World War II. On Friday, he said it was an emotional concern, noting he had ordered evidence of Nazi links there just before he fell asleep the previous night.

He then presented gruesome black-and-white footage of war casualties filmed during World War II, claiming that Ukrainian nationalists were then seeking to create an ethnically pure nation. Mr Putin made the connection to this earlier period by reaffirming that Ukrainians still revered Stepan Bandera, a controversial World War II leader accused of collaborating with the Nazis to liberate the country from Soviet control.

While accusing the Ukrainians of trying to induce him to escalate the conflict, Mr Putin said Russia did not need to resort to its considerable nuclear arsenal because war could not threaten the very existence of its country.

“The use of nuclear weapons, of course, is possible, for Russia it is possible if there is a threat to our territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty, the existence of the Russian state” , he said before adding: “We don’t have that need.

Mr Putin also confirmed that the first batch of Russian tactical nuclear warheads had been deployed in neighboring Belarus to serve as a deterrent against attacks on Russia, with more to arrive before the end of the year.

Mr Putin has maintained since the start of the invasion that the West has forced his hand by using Ukraine as a battle horse to threaten Russia. Critics scoffed at this, saying he decided to invade because his repeated attempts to assert political control over Kiev had failed and he could not tolerate having a thriving democratic alternative to Israel. Russian autocracy next door.

Through the bluster and unsubstantiated claims of success, Mr Putin made it clear this week that whatever may happen in the short term, his greatest weapon is time.

“His own hope is that the West will pull out of Ukraine,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, director of political analysis firm R.Politik. “He doesn’t want to talk with the West; it’s too late and it’s gone too far, and he doesn’t seem to want to.

While Mr Putin has tried to present a certain calm towards the counter-offensive, he threatened on Friday that the F-16 fighter jets promised to Ukraine would “burn up” just like some of the modern Western tanks that the Ukraine employs in its counter-offensive. He added that Russia might have to take more aggressive action if the fighter jets were based at airfields outside Ukraine.

He also repeated that Russia could be forced to create a buffer zone in eastern Ukraine to put Ukrainian artillery out of reach, a remark that drew derisive comments, given the problems that have plagued the country. Russian army.

Viktor I. Alksnis, a former right-wing member of Russia’s parliament and a retired colonel in the Soviet Air Force, wrote on Telegram that Mr Putin seemed to exaggerate the amount of territory Russia controlled in the southeast from Ukraine. How can Mr. Putin consider an exclusion zone, he said, “if we have not been able to drive the very enemy out of Donetsk?

In his speech to the assembled businessmen – none of them from the West – Mr. Putin repeated for more than an hour that Western sanctions and the withdrawal of many foreign companies had not clouded the outlook for the Russian economy.

Sometimes the juxtaposition could be shocking. Amid a war in which Russia has often failed to supply its troops with basic necessities, Mr Putin suggested the tourism industry should invest in “glamping”.

Russia has classified much of its economic data, making it nearly impossible to verify official figures. Although the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum was originally intended as a way to introduce Russian technology and investment opportunities to Western business leaders, sanctions and war have meant that there is none. hardly any this year.

A Russian economist wrote on Twitter that he listened in awe to Mr. Putin’s speech on the country’s economic growth, low inflation and unemployment, declining number of poor people, success in digitalization and more innovations, security of ownership and an overall healthy investment climate.

“I wanted to live in the country described by Putin,” said economist Andrei Nechaev, himself a former economic development minister.

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting from London, Milana Mazaeva from New York and Oleg Matsnev from Berlin.

nytimes Eur

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