In his first public admission that the Russian invasion of Ukraine may not go as planned, President Vladimir Putin said the situation in the four regions of Ukraine annexed by Moscow is proving “extremely difficult.”
He also called for increased surveillance in his comments on the occasion of Russia’s Security Service Day on Tuesday. They followed a visit to close ally Belarus, which fueled fears, dismissed by the Kremlin, that the country could help Russia open a new invasion front against Ukraine.
“The situation in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions is extremely difficult,” Putin told Russian intelligence services on their professional holiday.
Putin singled out those who work in the “new regions of Russia.”
“The people there, the citizens of Russia, rely on you, on your protection,” he said.
Putin also said that Russia’s counterintelligence operations require “maximum composure, concentration of forces.”
He ordered the Federal Security Service (FSB) to increase surveillance of Russian society and the country’s borders to counter the “emergence of new threats” from abroad and traitors at home.
“It is necessary to strictly suppress the actions of foreign intelligence services, quickly identify traitors, spies and saboteurs,” he said.
In September, Putin announced Russia’s annexation of four territories in eastern and southern Ukraine after Moscow’s puppets held referendums there that Kyiv and the West called a sham.
Kyiv demands more weapons
In the meantime, Kyiv has been looking to the West for more weapons after weeks of attacks on energy facilities that knocked out both electricity and water supplies due to freezing temperatures.
“Weapons, shells, new means of defense… everything that will give us the opportunity to hasten the end of this war,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening address.
The Ukrainian military said it shot down 30 of 35 kamikaze drones fired by Russia on Monday, mostly at Kyiv. An unmanned aerial vehicle flies towards its target, then plummets and explodes on impact.
Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday five people were killed in eastern Donetsk and southern Kherson regions, injured eight and 21 rockets knocked out power in the southern city of Zaporozhye.
activities in Belarus
To the northwest of Ukraine, Belarus has been the scene of ongoing Russian and Belarusian hostilities for months, which Moscow forces used as a launching pad for their failed assault on Kyiv in February.
Lukashenka has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to send his country’s troops to Ukraine. But the commander of the joint forces of Ukraine, Lieutenant-General Sergei Naev, said that his country was ready.
“The level of military threat is rising, but we are taking adequate measures,” the Defense Ministry quoted him as saying in Telegram. “The General Staff of the Armed Forces provides for the expansion of units in the event of a significant increase in the forces of the other side.”
The Kremlin on Monday dismissed suggestions that Putin wanted to push Belarus into a more active role. The RIA Novosti news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as calling such reports “groundless” and “stupid.”
Both Putin and Lukashenko have also gone out of their way to reject the idea of Russia annexing or absorbing Belarus.
“Russia is not interested in absorbing anyone,” Putin said.
Asked about the comment, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said it should be treated as “the height of irony” given that it “comes from a leader who is at this moment, right now, forcibly engulfing his other peaceful next – neighbor at the door.
The fight goes on
The ten-month conflict in Ukraine, the largest in Europe since World War II, has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, driven millions from their homes and reduced cities to rubble.
The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian artillery shelled 25 towns and villages around Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the east and several areas around Kupyansk, a city in the northeast recaptured by Ukraine in September.
Oleksiy Kulemzin, the Russian-appointed mayor of the city of Donetsk, said Ukrainian shelling hit the hospital wing along with the kindergarten, posting on the Telegraph a photo of a waiting room with broken furniture and plumbing.
Reuters was unable to independently verify either side’s reports on the battlefield.
Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West characterize the actions of the Kremlin as an unprovoked war of aggression.