Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that Moscow is ready for talks to end the 10-month war in Ukraine, as he slammed Western countries for trying to “tear apart the historical Russia”.
Putin’s comments, aired on Sunday, came amid continued Russian bombardment of Ukrainian towns, including in the Kharkiv and Zaporizhia regions and were immediately dismissed by a senior official in Kyiv. The United States has also previously described Putin’s stance as insincere because of the ongoing assaults.
In the interview aired on Moscow’s Rossiya 1 television, Putin said, “we are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions”. But “that is up to them — we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are,” he said.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, however, said Putin needed to return to reality and acknowledge it was Russia that did not want talks.
“Russia single-handedly attacked Ukraine and is killing citizens,” the adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, tweeted. “Russia doesn’t want negotiations, but tries to avoid responsibility.”
Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, with the stated aim of toppling the so-called “neo-nazi regime” in Ukraine, triggering the deadliest European conflict since World War Two and the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Russian leader said the West had begun the conflict in 2014 by toppling a pro-Moscow Ukrainian president in the Maidan Revolution protests. Soon after, Russia annexed Crimea, and Russian-backed separatist forces began fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“Actually, the fundamental thing here is the policy of our geopolitical opponents which is aimed at tearing apart Russia, historical Russia,” Putin said, referring to a concept that argues that Ukrainians and Russians are one people.
“They [the West] have always tried to ‘divide and conquer’ … Our goal is something else — to unite the Russian people,” he said.
“We are acting in the right direction, we are protecting our national interests, the interests of our citizens, of our people,” he added.
When asked if the geopolitical conflict with the West was approaching a dangerous level, Putin said: “I don’t think it’s so dangerous.”
The remarks come as Ukraine announced a country-wide air raid alert twice on Sunday.
Three missiles hit the city of Kramatorsk in the partially-occupied Donetsk region in the afternoon, local officials reported later. The missiles hit an industrial area of the city, and there were no casualties, according to the Ukrainian governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko.
Ukraine’s top military command also reported 10 Russian attacks on the Kupiansk district in the Kharkiv region. It said Moscow’s forces shelled more than 25 towns along the Kupiansk-Lyman front line and hit nearly 20 others in the Zaporizhia region.
A day before, a Russian attack on the southern city of Kherson, retaken by Ukrainian forces last month, killed and wounded dozens of people. The Russian forces shelled Ukrainian-held areas of the partially-occupied Kherson region 71 times over the past 24 hours, including 41 attacks on the city of Kherson, the region’s Ukrainian Governor Yaroslav Yanushevich reported on Sunday.
A total of 16 people have been killed, according to the official, including three emergency workers killed in the process of demining the Berislav district of the region. Yanushevich said that 64 more have been wounded.
Meanwhile, relentless Russian attacks on power-generating facilities since October have regularly left millions of Ukrainians without heat and water.
The Kremlin has said it will fight until all its territorial aims are achieved, while Ukraine says it will not rest until every Russian soldier is ejected from the country.
Putin on Sunday described Russia as a “unique country” and said the vast majority of its people were united in wanting to defend it.
“As for the main part — the 99.9 percent of our citizens, our people who are ready to give everything for the interests of the Motherland — there is nothing unusual for me here,” he said.
“This just once again convinces me that Russia is a unique country and that we have an exceptional people. This has been confirmed throughout the history of Russia’s existence.”