President Vladimir Putin has said Russia’s military action in Ukraine was “unavoidable” and pledged that its goals in the conflict will be achieved.
His comments on Tuesday came after he flew into Russia’s far east Amur region where he met Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The visit marked Putin’s first known trip outside Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, sending tens of thousands of troops into the neighbouring country.
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Putin and Lukashenko visited the Vostochny Cosmodrome to mark Russia’s annual Cosmonautics Day, commemorating the first crewed space flight made in 1961 by the Russian Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
They were also expected to inspect the spaceport and meet staff, and give a joint news conference later on Tuesday.
Ukraine says it expects Russia to launch a huge new offensive soon in the east of the country, after withdrawing its forces from parts of northern Ukraine.
Speaking at the Vostochny space launch facility, Putin charged that Ukraine was turned into an “anti-Russian bridgehead” where “sprouts of nationalism and neo-Nazism were being cultivated”.
“This new generation of Ukrainian nationalists are especially clashing with Russia. You see how Nazi ideology became a fact of life in Ukraine,” he argued.
Ukraine and its Western allies have dismissed such claims as a cover for aggression. No far-right party was represented in Ukraine’s parliament before the war.
Putin reaffirmed his claim that the Russian “special military operation” was aimed to protect people in areas in eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed rebels, adding that the campaign was also aimed to “ensure Russia’s own security”.
He argued that “we had no other choice” and said that “there is no doubt that we will achieve our goals”.
Putin also said that Russia has no intention to isolate itself and added that foreign powers would not succeed in isolating it. “It’s certainly impossible to isolate anyone in the world of today, especially such a huge country as Russia.”
Ukraine has mounted fierce resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions designed to force Russia to withdraw its forces from its neighbour.
Lukashenko, who has a track record of sometimes saying things that appear to jar with his closest allies’ stated positions on a range of issues, has insisted that Belarus must be involved in negotiations to resolve the conflict in Ukraine and has said that Belarus had been unfairly labelled “an accomplice of the aggressor”.