Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday used the word “war” to refer to the conflict in Ukraine, the first known time he has publicly backed down from his carefully crafted description of the Moscow invasion as a “special military operation” 10 months after has deviated from its beginning.
“Our goal is not to turn the flywheel of the military conflict, but on the contrary to end this war,” Putin told reporters in Moscow after attending a session of the State Council on youth policy. “We have and will continue to work for this.”
Putin’s critics say using the word “war” to describe the Ukraine conflict has been virtually illegal in Russia since March, when the Russian leader signed a censorship law criminalizing the dissemination of “fake” information about the invasion by up to 15 years in prison for each convict.
So Putin’s use of the word did not go unnoticed.
Nikita Yuferev, a St. Petersburg local lawmaker who fled Russia over his anti-war stance, said Thursday he had asked Russian authorities to prosecute Putin for “spreading false information about the army.”
“There was no decree ending the special military operation, no war was declared,” Yuferev wrote on Twitter. “Several thousand people have already been sentenced for such words about the war.”
A US official told CNN his initial assessment was that Putin’s remark was unintentional and likely a slip of the tongue. However, officials will be closely watching what numbers in the Kremlin say about it in the coming days.
Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, thousands have been killed, entire villages wiped out, and billions of dollars in infrastructure destroyed.
That day, Putin used the term “military special operations” to describe his attack. He has portrayed the ongoing brutality as a “denazification” campaign – a description dismissed by historians and political observers – and increasingly described the unprovoked invasion of Russia as a patriotic and almost existential cause.
Putin’s comments on Thursday followed a historic trip by Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Washington, where the Ukrainian president delivered an impassioned speech to Congress calling for more US support for the war effort.
During his visit, US President Joe Biden unveiled a $1.8 billion aid package for Ukraine that includes a Patriot missile defense system — a longstanding demand by Kiev to counter Russian airstrikes.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on Thursday, Putin dismissed the Patriot systems as “old” and said Russia will “always find the antidote.”
“In terms of Patriots, this is a fairly old system and it doesn’t work as well as our S-300 (missile system),” Putin said.
“Those who oppose us think this is a defensive weapon, they say so. But that’s in her own head and we’ll always find the antidote.
“So those who do this are just wasting their time, it’s only delaying the conflict.”
In his address to Congress, Zelenskyi briefly discussed a 10-point peace formula and summit he told Biden about at a previous White House meeting. The Ukrainian leader claimed Biden supports the peace initiatives.
Asked by a reporter Thursday whether there was a real opportunity for diplomacy in Ukraine, Putin said negotiations always preceded the end of a conflict.
“All conflicts, including armed conflicts, end in one way or another with some kind of negotiations,” Putin said, accusing Zelenskyy of refusing to negotiate.
“We never refused, it was the Ukrainian leadership that refused to negotiate… Sooner or later, each party to the conflict will sit down and negotiate, and the sooner our opponents realize it, the better,” he said.
“We never gave up.”
Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday that the Kremlin would make significant investments in many areas of the military. Initiatives include increasing armed forces, accelerating weapons programs and deploying a new generation of hypersonic missiles to prepare Russia for what Putin called “inevitable clashes” with his opponents.