The 71-year-old Russian leader made the remarks during his annual marathon press conference and call-in event on December 14 in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he will continue the war on Ukraine until he achieves his goals, and insisted while speaking to an AI body double that he is the only Putin. He also accused the United States of orchestrating sabotage on the Nord Stream gas pipelines, and claimed to have gone into stealth mode to visit the occupied Luhansk in Ukraine.
The 71-year-old Russian leader made the remarks during his annual marathon press conference and call-in event on December 14 in Moscow. Taking questions for just over four hours from a mix of journalists, the public, soldiers, and even an AI-generated version of himself, Putin, who last week announced he’s running for a fifth term as president in a March election, took questions on a wide range of topics, from Russia’s war against Ukraine, to Americans in Russian custody, to the price of eggs.
With the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine now in its 22nd month, Putin said Russia’s core goals for the conflict remain the “de-Nazification” and “de-militarization” of Ukraine, while securing its neutrality.
“There will be peace when we achieve our goals,” Putin said of the war, which Moscow says must be called a “special military operation.”
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The invasion of Ukraine, now in its 22nd month, has been a disaster for Russia, taking the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers, upending the economy, and ruining relations with the West.
“As for de-militarization, if they (the Ukrainians) don’t want to come to an agreement — well, then we are forced to take other measures, including military ones…. Either we get an agreement, agree on certain parameters [on the size and strength of Ukraine’s military]… or we resolve this by force. This is what we will strive for.”
In an apparent counter to criticism that Putin has kept himself isolated from the war while Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky has remained inside the war-torn country, the Russian president claimed to have slipped into Luhansk incognito.
“I’ve driven around Luhansk and looked around,” he said. The city is “modest, but clean and tidy,” which says a lot about the people who live there, Putin said, adding that he would visit again in the future.
Putin said during the December 14 event that a further wave of military mobilization is not needed at the moment, as “the flow of men ready to defend our homeland with arms in hand is not decreasing.”
Some 300,000 Russians were mobilized to the military last year, and Putin said there are currently around 617,000 Russian soldiers fighting in the war. In recent months, more Russian soldiers have deserted the armed forces in order to avoid being sent to Ukraine.
In a direct rebuke to the United States, the Russian president claimed without giving evidence, the U.S. or its agents blew up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year.
“We did not undermine Nord Stream 1 and partially Nord Stream 2. It was most likely the Americans who did this or someone they ordered,” he said during his combined Direct Line Q&A session and year-end press conference.
Russian state media said more than 2 million questions were submitted by ordinary citizens for the news conference, which also included the presence of Western journalists, the first time since the Ukraine invasion that Putin was face to face with international reporters asking questions.
None of the questions challenged Putin on issues such as the war’s death toll — estimated at more than 300,000 Russians, his brutal crackdown on dissent and opposition voices such as Aleksei Navalny, or what another Putin term in office would look like.
Still, amid plummeting relations with the United States, Putin took a question from a New York Times reporter about talks with Washington over the fate of two Americans — Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and/or U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan — currently in Russian custody.
Putin flippantly asked if Gershkovich was “the Australian” in question before saying there has been dialogue between the two sides on prisoner swaps but the situation was “complicated” and a decision “must be one that will mutually satisfy all sides.”
He didn’t mention any other Americans currently being held by Russia, among them Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) veteran journalist Alsu Kurmasheva.
In one area of economic concern, inflation, Putin even offered a rare apology, saying the government had failed to keep prices — especially for eggs — in check. He then promised that “the situation will be corrected in the near future.”
In a lighter moment, near the end of the event Putin was confronted with a question from an AI-generated version of himself asking about the threat artificial intelligence posed to the country.
Putin didn’t answer the question directly, instead making light of persistent rumors he uses body doubles as a security precaution.
“This is my first body double, by the way,” he said before going on to say that “only one person should look like me and speak in my voice. And that person will be myself.”
Speaking Thursday at the same time as Putin, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels that the Russian leader has shown no signs of preparing for peace.
Stoltenberg said the only way to reach a just and lasting peace in Ukraine is to convince Putin that he will not win on the battlefield, and for allies to continue to support Ukraine.
“If Putin wins in Ukraine, there is a real risk that his aggression will not end there,” Stoltenberg said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled to Washington this week to make the case directly to the president and lawmakers that the aid is vital to Ukraine’s war effort.
Ukraine’s military said Thursday that Russia attacked overnight with drones and missiles, while Russia reported Ukrainian aerial attacks targeting the Moscow area.
Putin made the long-anticipated announcement to run for reelection on December 8 following a ceremony in the Kremlin, where he awarded soldiers who fought in the war in Ukraine with Russia’s highest military honor, the Hero of Russia Gold Star.
Putin became eligible to take part in Russia’s next two presidential elections after he rammed through constitutional changes in 2020 that paved the way for him to remain in office until 2036.
He has been prime minister or president since 1999, slashing democratic norms and freedoms with every new term. He is unlikely to face any challenge in the race with his two main rivals — Aleksei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza — both in prison serving lengthy sentences and dissent in general stifled through legislation.
– With reporting from RFE/RL, VOA, and TASS.