July 19th, 2024

Putin says some 244,000 Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine, offering a rare detail

By Harriet Morris, The Associated Press on December 14, 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with judges of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation marking the national holiday celebrated on December 12 - Constitution Day, at the Novo-Ogaryovo State residence outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. (Mikhail Tereshchenko, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) – President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that some 244,000 Russian troops are currently fighting in Ukraine, a rare detail on Moscow’s military operation there.

Putin said during his year-end press conference that the Kremlin doesn’t need a second wave of mobilization of reservists, with 1,500 men recruited into the army every day across the country.

As of Wednesday evening, a total of 486,000 soldiers have signed a contract with the Russian military, Putin said.

“Why mobilization? There is no need,” he said.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

MOSCOW (AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin began his end-of-year news conference Thursday with a question about Ukraine, vowing that his goals remain the same and there would be no peace until they’re achieved.

Putin was greeted with applause as he arrived in the hall in central Moscow, a short distance from the Kremlin. This year, ordinary citizens have the chance to phone in questions along with those asked by journalists, and Russians have been submitting questions for Putin for two weeks.

Key themes are expected to be the fighting in Ukraine, payments to soldiers and their families and the economy, Russian state journalists said.

Indeed, the first question was about Ukraine. Putin said Thursday that Moscow’s goals – “de-Nazification, de-militarization and a neutral status” of the country – remain unchanged.

He spelled out the goals the day he sent troops to Ukraine in February 2022.

“De-Nazification” refers from Russia’s allegations that the Ukrainian government is heavily influenced by radical nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. The claim is derided by Ukraine and the West.

Putin has also demanded that Ukraine remain neutral – and not join the NATO alliance.

“There will be peace when we will achieve our goals,” Putin said.

The Kremlin has since repeatedly said that the “special military operation” in Ukraine will continue until those loosely defined goals are achieved.

Putin, who has held power for nearly 24 years, said last week that he is running for reelection in March. Last year, he did not hold his usual call-in show with ordinary Russians or his traditional session with reporters.

In addition, his annual state-of-the-nation address was delayed until February of this year. His last news conference was in 2021 amid U.S warnings that Russia was on the brink of sending troops into Ukraine.

Putin has heavily limited his interaction with the foreign media since the fighting began but international journalists were invited this year.

With the future of Western aid to Ukraine in doubt and another winter of fighting looming, neither side has managed to make significant battlefield gains recently. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled to Washington on Tuesday and made an impassioned plea for more U.S. aid and weaponry.

Putin’s appearance is primarily aimed at a domestic audience and will be a chance for him to personally resolve the problems of ordinary Russian citizens and reinforce his grip on power ahead of the March 17 election.

“For the majority of people, this is their only hope and possibility of solving the most important problems,” according to a state television news report on the Russia 1 channel.

State media said that as of Wednesday, about 2 million questions for Putin had been submitted ahead of the broadcast, which is heavily choreographed and more about spectacle than scrutiny.

In 2021, Putin called a citizen who asked about water quality in the city of Pskov in western Russia and personally assured him he would order the government and local officials to fix the problem.

Some Russian journalists, who lined up for hours in freezing temperatures to get into the venue, have donned traditional dress, including elaborate hats in order to catch Putin’s attention. Many journalists also hold placards, prompting the Kremlin to limit the size of signs they can carry during the news conference, which often lasts about four hours.

Attendees must test for COVID-19 and flu before entering the news conference site. Putin enforced strict quarantine for visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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