Putin admits military failure but insists Russia will keep fighting

Putin admits military failure but insists Russia will keep fighting

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After months of fierce assessments inside and outside Russia that his war effort in Ukraine did not lack even the basic resources to prevail, President Vladimir V Putin delivered his own verdict on those criticisms on Wednesday: It is valid.

In an unusual acknowledgment of Russia’s shortcomings in a speech at the Defense Ministry in Moscow, the Russian leader ticked off a list of areas his military needs to improve. He explained drones must be able to communicate target information “in real time” over encrypted channels. He said the military must “improve the command and control system” and its ability to knock back enemy artillery.

And he nodded to the widespread reports of soldiers being sent to the front lines without basic equipment, and instructed officers to look out for “medicines, food, dry rations, uniforms, shoes, hard hats and bulletproof vests.”

But far from admitting defeat, Putin’s reference to his army’s suffering echoed his defiant message on a day when the Ukrainian president staged a show of unity with the United States: Russia will keep fighting.

“We have no limits on funding,” Putin said, insisting that Russia would eventually prevail in Ukraine. “The country and the government provide everything the army asks for – everything.”

Even as Ukraine’s resistance grabbed the global spotlight with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s trip to Washington, Mr Putin staged his own high-profile gathering, addressing members of parliament and even Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church, to top brass at an annual meeting of the military.

Putin compared the Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine to “the heroes” who repelled Napoleon’s invading army in 1812 and defeated Hitler in 1945, implying that his war was just as existential – not to mention that Moscow was now conducting the invasion . He also tried to convey the image that he is in control of the war effort and attentive to the needs of the common soldier, once urging the assembled military to “heed criticism.”

Equally important to the Kremlin was Putin’s attempt to project an aura of determination to the West: the idea that no matter how much arms support Ukraine gets, and despite the problems facing the Russian military, the Kremlin remains determined to triumph in the end.

At the same time, Russian officials are reminding the West that they are ready to strike a deal to end the war — on their terms.

Zelenskyy in Washington: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will visit Washington today to meet with President Biden and address Congress. The visit will be the first time Mr Zelensky has left Ukraine since Russia invaded its second year Ukraine.A new Russian offensive? A senior adviser to Mr Zelensky said Ukraine is preparing for the possibility that Russia will sharply escalate the war in a winter offensive that could involve mass infantry attacks.

“Russia is always ready to engage in constructive peace talks,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu said after Mr Putin spoke.

Mr. Shoigu promised to make changes in the military’s structure, establish new units and increase its target size by more than 300,000 soldiers. State TV also showed Mr Shoigu giving Mr Putin a tour of modern Russian military equipment, including surveillance drones, night vision goggles and a medical tent.

But while the message seemed to be that Russia could rectify mistakes on the fly and get the war back on track, experts question whether this is realistic. The ailing Russian economy, weighed down by Western sanctions, will set its own limits on how much the Kremlin can spend to upgrade its military.

“They’re trying to cope with severe labor and equipment shortages and hastily assembling something that’s falling apart,” said Pavel Luzin, a Russian military analyst who is a visiting scholar at Tufts University. “The aim of all these attempts is to improve the negotiating position – probably nothing more.”

It was not known if Wednesday’s event was deliberately planned as a counterpoint to Mr Zelenskyy’s high-profile visit to Washington, but it played that role for a Kremlin keen to create an aura of determination around Mr Putin. Earlier in the day, the Kremlin stuck to its line that further Western arms sales to Ukraine would only prolong the war.

“All of this, of course, leads to an aggravation of the conflict,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov, referring to new American arms shipments, “and actually does not bode well for Ukraine.”

In another counter-message, Dmitry A. Medvedev, former Russian President and leader of the ruling United Russia party, met with Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, in Beijing on Wednesday, as Chinese and Russian naval vessels began weeks of joint exercises in the East China Sea.

Mr Xi’s rare face-to-face meeting with a foreign official was a reminder that Russia retained the support of China, its key international partner, even though Beijing had avoided declaring its full support for the Russian invasion. Mr Xi told Mr Medvedev that relations between the two countries have “passed the test of international change” and that their partnership is a “long-term strategic decision by both sides,” according to state broadcaster China Central Television.

This kind of alliance is important for Mr. Putin when he goes against the West. In postscripts after his speech on Wednesday, he reiterated his frequent assertion that the goal of Russian adversaries is “the disintegration and weakening of Russia” and “for centuries – there is nothing new here”. A war over Ukraine’s pro-Western turn will inevitably break out sooner or later.

“Of course, military operations are always associated with tragedy and loss of life,” Putin said. “But as it is inevitable, better today than tomorrow.”

He claimed Russia currently has an advantage over the West in its nuclear forces, including its new hypersonic missiles, which have helped create “some margin of safety”. While he did not reiterate the more overt threats he made in September that he might use nuclear weapons, the remark was a reminder that Mr Putin saw the Ukraine war as part of a broader struggle with the West, in which its nuclear arsenal stands his ultimate support.

After Mr. Putin spoke, Mr. Shoigu gave a speech describing an expansion of the Russian military by more than 300,000 military personnel to a target size of 1.5 million. It wasn’t immediately clear if that expansion would include the enlistment of some 300,000 troops this fall, but it appeared to be part of a push to further militarize Russian society.

Mr Shoigu said the age range for men who could be drafted for their compulsory year of military service should be shifted from the current 18-27 to 21-30 – a move that could make it harder for Russians to use their university studies to get respite.

Mr Shoigu also described planned structural changes, particularly of the Western Military District – an entity whose troops are stationed across much of western Russia and which analysts said was performing particularly poorly in Ukraine.

“It is an admission that the army has proved too small and that the elite Western Military District has proved ineffective,” said Dmitry Kuznets, a military analyst at the independent Russian-language news agency Meduza.

Victoria Kim and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed coverage.

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