As Ukraine grapples with the loss of its interior minister in a deadly helicopter crash, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has predicted Moscow’s victory in the war “is assured”.
Speaking on Wednesday during a visit to a factory in St Petersburg that makes air defence systems, Putin said he had “no doubt” Russia would emerge victorious in the conflict – despite suffering a string of military setbacks in its now nearly year-long offensive.
“The unity and solidarity of the Russian people … the courage and heroism of our fighters and, of course, the work of the military-industrial complex” will ensure success in the conflict, he said.
Earlier, Putin attended an event with veterans to mark the 80th anniversary of the lifting of the World War II siege of St Petersburg, then known as Leningrad, which Nazi German forces blockaded for nearly 900 days.
He told the war veterans Russia was fighting in Ukraine to defend ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, who Moscow alleges are subject to systematic discrimination in Ukraine.
Kyiv rejects that allegation and says the Kremlin has used it as a pretext for what is simply an aggressive land grab.
Ukraine rocked by deadly helicopter crash
Putin’s remarks came just hours after Ukrainian authorities said 14 people – including Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyy and other senior officials from within his department – were killed in a helicopter crash on the outskirts of the country’s capital, Kyiv.
One child was among the dead and 25 others were wounded in Wednesday’s incident in the town of Brovary, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine said.
Monastyrskyy, 42, was in charge of the Ukrainian police and other emergency services. He is the highest-profile Ukrainian casualty since Russia launched its invasion last February.
It was not immediately clear what caused the helicopter, which authorities said had been en route to front-line positions in the country’s east, to come down. Ukrainian officials made no reference to any Russian attack in the area at the time and said they launched an investigation.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the crash was a “terrible tragedy” that had caused “unspeakable” pain.
“I have instructed the Security Service of Ukraine, in cooperation with the National Police of Ukraine and other authorised bodies, to find out all the circumstances of what happened,” he said in a post on Telegram, hailing the interior ministry leadership team that died as “true patriots”.
Ukraine’s allies in the West also paid tribute to Monastyrskyy, with the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman hailing him as “a leading light in supporting the Ukrainian people during Putin’s illegal invasion”.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ihor Klymenko, the national police chief, had been appointed acting interior minister.
‘Another very sad day’
The crash came amid a particularly dark period in the war for Ukraine, just days after a Russian strike on an apartment building in the country’s central city of Dnipro killed 45 people, including six children.
“Another very sad day today — new losses,” Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady, said as she responded to news of the helicopter crash while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The forum held 15 seconds of silence after opening the session to honour the Ukrainian officials killed.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is facing mounting pressure to send tanks to Ukraine, said the crash “shows once again the huge price that Ukraine is having to pay in this war”.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow saw no prospects for peace talks and reiterated the Kremlin’s position that there can be no negotiations with Zelenskyy’s government.
Russia has said talks are possible only if Ukraine recognises Moscow’s claims to Ukrainian territory in the country’s east and south. Kyiv says it will fight until Russia withdraws all of its troops from the country.