Foreign-made tanks are a “priority target” for Russian forces in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, and the supply of Western weaponry to Kyiv will not change the course of the war.
Putin, in comments to state television on Thursday, also reaffirmed his stance that Ukraine’s membership in NATO would threaten Russia’s security while the provision of Western arms had only escalated global tensions further and prolonged the conflict.
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When asked about France’s decision to supply Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles, which can travel 250km (155 miles), Putin said: “Yes, they cause damage, but nothing critical happens in the war zone with their use.”
The Russian leader added that foreign-made tanks were “a priority target for our guys”.
Putin’s comments came as US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Russia had already lost the war in Ukraine and expressed hope that the ongoing, though slow-moving, counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces would push Moscow to the negotiation table.
“Putin’s already lost the war. Putin has a real problem,” Biden told a press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in Helsinki.
“There is no possibility of him winning the war in Ukraine,” he said.
Biden also used his visit to Finland, NATO’s newest member, to pledge that Ukraine would one day join the alliance, despite NATO leaders failing to give Kyiv a membership timeline at a summit of the Western military alliance this week in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. NATO leaders had dashed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hopes for a clear path to joining NATO, saying that Ukraine would join when “conditions are met”.
Biden was more upbeat about Ukraine’s NATO membership on Thursday.
“It’s not about whether or not they should or shouldn’t join. It’s about when they can join, and they will join NATO,” Biden said of Ukraine.
Putin’s comments on targeting Western tanks and warning on growing military assistance to Kyiv were his first public response to the remarks made at the NATO summit. He also reiterated Moscow’s strong opposition to Ukraine ever joining the defence bloc, saying this would threaten Russia’s own strategic interests.
“This will not increase the security of Ukraine itself. And in general, it will make the world much more vulnerable,” Putin said.
Any country has the right to improve its security, Putin added, but not at another country’s expense.
Washington, DC-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), said that a generally muted response from Russia to developments at the NATO summit this week demonstrated the “degree to which the 2022 Russian invasion has set back the goals for which the Kremlin claims it launched the war” on Ukraine.
Namely, the “aim of preventing NATO expansion and, indeed, rolling back earlier rounds of NATO expansion and pushing NATO back from Russia’s borders,” the ISW said.
“Many Russian sources are reporting on the NATO summit in a dispassionate and muted manner that is not commensurate with the wider defeat that the summit actually represents for Russia’s pre-war aims,” the ISW think tank said earlier this week.
In another sign of Moscow’s anger at NATO’s deepening backing for Kyiv, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would regard F-16 fighter jets sent to Ukraine as a “nuclear” threat because of their capacity to carry atomic bombs.
“Russia cannot ignore the ability of these aircraft to carry nuclear weapons. No amount of assurances will help here,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Russian foreign ministry.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, also warned this week that assistance for Ukraine from NATO members brought the threat of a third global conflict closer.
Ukrainian pilots will begin training on F-16 fighter jets in Romania next month, officials said on the sidelines of the NATO summit, though Kyiv’s military allies have yet to agree on the supply of US-made warplanes to Ukraine.