President Vladimir Putin has said the Russian army must learn from and fix the problems it suffered in Ukraine and promised to give the military whatever it needed to prosecute the 10-month-long war.
In a speech during a televised meeting with senior military officials in Moscow on Wednesday, Putin said there were no financial limits on what the government would provide in terms of equipment and hardware.
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“We have no funding restrictions. The country and the government are providing everything that the army asks for,” he said.
Putin acknowledged, not for the first time, that the call-up of 300,000 reservists that he ordered in September had not gone smoothly.
“The partial mobilisation that was carried out revealed certain problems, as everyone well knows, which should be promptly addressed,” he said.
The call-up drew strong criticism even from Kremlin allies, as it emerged that military commissariats were enlisting many men who were physically unfit or too old, and new recruits were lacking basic equipment, such as sleeping bags and winter clothing.
Putin also referred to other unspecified problems in the military and said that constructive criticism should be heeded.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
At the meeting, Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu proposed increasing the number of combat personnel in Russia’s army in Ukraine to 1.5 million troops, as well as increasing the age limit for military service.
“It is necessary to increase the number of armed troops to 1.5 million servicemen, including 695,000 contract soldiers,” Shoigu told Putin, who “agreed” with the proposals.
Shoigu also proposed raising the age for mandatory Russian military service to a new range of 21-30, compared with 18-27 at the moment, and said Russia was accelerating the deployment of modern weapons.
He referred back to a report that said Russia’s forces were actively destroying Ukraine’s military potential and accused the West of trying to “drag out” the conflict.
Putin also claimed Russia had had no choice but to stand up to arrogant Western powers and called the continuing conflict a “shared tragedy.”
“What is happening is, of course, a tragedy – our shared tragedy. But it is not the result of our policy. It is the result of the policy of third countries,” he said.
On Tuesday, Putin told security officers that the situation in the four regions Russia annexed in October was “highly complicated”. Earlier this month, he anticipated that Russia could be fighting in Ukraine for a long time.
Since it launched its invasion on February 24, Moscow has occupied a huge swath of eastern and southern Ukraine along a front stretching some 1,100km (685 miles). In recent months, however, it suffered a series of defeats that have swung the war’s momentum in favour of Kyiv.
Ukraine’s counteroffensives, backed and accelerated by US and allied support, pushed Russian forces out of parts of Ukrainian territories including the city of Kherson, the first and only regional capital captured by Moscow in almost 10 months of conflict.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy headed to Washington to meet US leader Joe Biden and address Congress on Wednesday “to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities of [Ukraine],” Zelenskyy wrote in a Tweet.
Russia has unleashed Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones against Ukrainian towns and cities, as well as critical energy infrastructure. According to Ukrainian authorities, more than 10 million people are without electricity as temperatures fall below freezing.