Putin admits difficulties in occupied Ukrainian territories: live updates

Credit…Pool photo by Pavel Bednyakov

While Russian President Vladimir V Putin rarely acknowledged the war’s military challenges, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy highlighted Russia’s struggles on Tuesday with a bold visit to a frontline city that Moscow failed to take despite months of bombing.

Mr. Zelenskyy’s visit – to Bakhmut in the Donetsk region – was heralded by his office hours after Mr Putin said the conditions for Russia in that region and three others in eastern and southern Ukraine that Moscow has tried to illegally annex have failed fully controlled, “extremely complicated”.

But far from slacking off in his war effort, Mr Putin has signaled that he will keep fighting in Ukraine and seek to toughen his own stance and the illegally annexed territories. In a transcript of a video address released by the Kremlin early Tuesday, the Russian leader called on his security agencies to intensify their efforts “to put an end to the activities of foreign special services and promptly identify traitors, spies and diversionary tactics.”

The video was released on a holiday dedicated to Russian security officials, and Mr Putin took the opportunity to highlight a “rapidly changing global situation and the emergence of new threats and challenges” to Russian security.

Russia claimed Ukraine’s Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhia regions in September after orchestrated referendums, a move widely denounced as a violation of international law by Ukraine and its western allies. But Russia’s battlefield setbacks continue. In November, Russian forces relinquished control of the city of Kherson, the only regional capital they had captured in nearly 10 months of war. And despite relentless bombing and paramilitary attacks, they have failed to breach Ukraine’s defenses in Bakhmut.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

In the video address, Mr Putin acknowledged the “difficult tasks” facing Russian security agencies in the annexed areas, which he described as “Russia’s new regions”. He framed the problem as one of ensuring the security, rights and freedoms of “Russian citizens,” as he claims the population of those areas.

Mr. Putin called on the Russian authorities to step up their efforts, particularly the border services of the FSB, the successor to the Soviet security service KGB. said Putin.

He said the FSB should ensure that places where citizens congregate “should be under constant control,” along with “strategic facilities, transportation and energy infrastructure,” and that Moscow send additional equipment, weapons and “skilled personnel” into the plant will send regions.

Later, at a ceremony to mark Russia’s holiday, Mr Putin said he presented medals to some of the war’s most prominent hardliners, another signal that Russia intends to continue its invasion.

Among the winners in the Kremlin were the Russian-imposed heads of the four Ukrainian regions illegally annexed by Russia. He also bestowed government honors on Semyon Pegov, a hawkish war blogger who was injured in Ukraine, and Margarita Simonyan, the editor of one of the Kremlin’s main propaganda arms, TV channel RT.

“Thank you for ripping our people out of the bloody mouths of these cannibals, despite the pain and blood,” Ms. Simonyan said at the ceremony. “And we will help you beat up those cannibals as much as you ask us to.”

Mr. At the end of the ceremony, Putin said in a short speech that these were “difficult, unusual times”.

“When a country or even every person develops, advances, he always overcomes certain difficulties along the way,” he said. “But today it is actually accompanied by special challenges.”

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