Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had largely vanished from public view since his forces were driven from the approaches to Kyiv this month, resurfaced to defend his “noble” invasion of Ukraine, saying peace talks had come to a dead end.
In a press event on Tuesday inside a hangar at a far eastern space base six time zones from Moscow, Putin rattled off talking points: that Moscow had “no choice” but to intervene to protect separatists, defeat neo-Nazis and “help people”.
Russia’s economy was standing on its feet despite Western sanctions, he added, and signs of war crimes allegedly carried out by Russian troops were fakes staged by the West.
As for talks: “We have again returned to a dead-end situation for us.”
It was only his second public appearance in a week, following a brief appearance at the funeral of a nationalist politician where he said nothing directly about the war.
Asked by workers at the space base if the operation in Ukraine would achieve its goals, Putin said: “Absolutely. I don’t have any doubt at all.”
“Its goals are absolutely clear and noble.”
But in those remarks, and a later news conference held before flags at the back of the hangar alongside his wartime ally Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Putin frequently seemed to ramble or stammer. Only occasionally did he adopt the icy, confident demeanour that has been his trademark in public appearances over more than 22 years as Russia’s leader.
“That Blitzkrieg which our foes were counting on did not work,” Putin said, of financial sanctions.
Putin’s recent withdrawal from public appearances was a change for a leader who was ubiquitous on Russian television in the early days of the war.
Russia’s tanks pulled out of northern Ukraine after failing in what the West believes was a mission to swiftly capture the capital Kyiv.
Many of the towns they left behind were littered with the bodies of civilians killed in what Kyiv says was a campaign of murder, torture and rape.
Moscow denies targeting civilians or carrying out war crimes.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy published a photo of prominent Ukrainian pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk in handcuffs after what Zelenskiy described as an operation by security forces.
Kyiv had said Medvedchuk, who faced a treason case, escaped from house arrest days after the invasion began.
Medvedchuk, who says Putin is godfather to his daughter, denies wrongdoing.
Russia says its campaign now aims to capture more territory on behalf of separatists in two eastern provinces, a region known as the Donbas.
It includes Mariupol port, which has been reduced to a wasteland under Russian siege.
Ukraine says tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped inside that city with no way to bring in food or water, and accuses Russia of blocking aid convoys.
The battle for Mariupol appeared on Tuesday to be reaching a decisive phase, with Ukrainian marines holed up in the Azovstal industrial district.
There have been reports on possible chemical weapons use in the city – the US and UK are trying to verify these reports.
Zelenskiy had said on Monday that Russia may resort to chemical weapons as it massed troops for a new assault.