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Putin says that the situation is extremely difficult in the areas Ukraine annexed to Russia


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© Reuters. Local resident Amiram stands next to his friend’s house destroyed by recent shelling during the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, December 17, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko.

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By Tom Balmforth and Oleksandr Kozhukhar

KYIV (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said the situation in four regions of Ukraine, which Moscow claims is part of Russia, was “extremely difficult” and ordered security services to step up surveillance to protect them. protect borders and combat new threats.

Putin’s comments come on the widely celebrated Security Service Day in Russia, which comes as Kiev continues to call for more weapons supplies after Russian drones hit targets. energy and as concerns grew that Moscow’s ally Belarus could open a new front of aggression against Ukraine.

Putin has ordered the Federal Security Service (FSB) to increase surveillance of Russian society and the country’s borders to combat the “emergence of new threats” from abroad and traitors in the country. country.

In a rare admission that the invasion of Ukraine did not go smoothly, Putin warned of the difficult situation in parts of Ukraine that Moscow annexed in September and ordered the FSB to guarantee ” safe” for the people living there.

“The situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions is extremely difficult,” Putin said late Monday in comments translated by Reuters.

In September, a defiant Putin moved to annex a large swath of Ukraine – about 15% of the country – in a ceremony in the Kremlin, but earlier this month he said the war “could be It’s a long process.”

Putin’s move to annex these regions has been condemned by Kiev and its Western allies as illegal.

On Monday, Putin made his first visit to Belarus since 2019, where he and his counterpart hailed the growing relationship in a late-night press conference but made little mention of it. Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Kiev is seeking more weapons from the West after Russian “kamikaze” drones hit energy targets early Monday.

“New weapons, shells, new defenses…everything will give us the ability to accelerate the end of this war,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his evening speech.

The Ukrainian military’s high command said its air defenses shot down 23 of the 28 drones – mostly in the capital Kyiv – in Moscow’s third air strike in six days. Russia has targeted Ukraine’s power grid, causing power outages amid sub-zero temperatures.

The “kamikaze” drones used in the attacks are cheap, disposable drones that fly toward the target before slowing down and exploding on impact.

ACTIVITIES BELARUS

In the northwest of Ukraine, there has been continuous Russian and Belarusian military activity for months in Belarus, a close ally of the Kremlin that Moscow’s military has used as a launch pad for its failed offensive. they entered Kyiv in February.

Putin’s trip to Minsk has raised concerns in Ukraine about the broader involvement of the Belarusian armed forces in the invasion. Putin and Lukashenko barely mentioned Ukraine at a press conference after the talks, instead touting the benefits of economic and defense alignment.

Lukashenko has repeatedly said that he has no intention of sending his troops into Ukraine, where Moscow’s invasion has failed miserably with a series of retreats on the battlefield before a major counteroffensive.

The Kremlin on Monday rejected the idea that Mr. Putin wants to push Belarus to play a more active role. The RIA Novosti news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying such reports were “baseless” and “stupid”.

Both Putin and Lukashenko also took great pains to reject the idea of ​​Russia annexing or taking over Belarus.

“Russia is not interested in absorbing anyone,” Putin said.

Asked about the comment, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said it should be seen as “the pinnacle of irony”, as it “comes from a leader looking at the present time.” at, right now, to violently absorb his other peace plan”. – the neighbor’s door.”

BATTLE ON

The 10-month conflict in Ukraine, the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II, has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions and turned cities into rubble. broken.

Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian artillery hit 25 towns and villages around Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the east and some areas around Kupiansk, a northeastern town recaptured by Ukraine in September.

It also said Ukrainian air forces and artillery had carried out more than a dozen attacks on Russian troops and assets, including ammunition dumps, and shot down two helicopters.

Alexei Kulemzin, the mayor of the Russian-appointed city of Donetsk, said Ukrainian shelling had hit a hospital, along with a kindergarten, posting in the Telegraph a picture of what appeared to be a waiting room with furniture. and broken accessories.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the battlefield accounts of the two sides.

Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine to eliminate nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe the Kremlin’s actions as a gratuitous war of aggression.

(Reporting on Ronald Popeski in Winnipeg, Valentyn Ogirenko in Kyiv, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Costas Pitas and Shri Navaratnam; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lincoln Feast.)



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