Russian Airstrikes Kill 6 Civilians as Kyiv’s Offensive Grinds On

A photograph released by Russian state news media showing President Vladimir V. Putin during a meeting with war correspondents at the Kremlin on Tuesday.Credit…Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik, via Reuters

In an unusual, wide-ranging interview with war correspondents and military bloggers, President Vladimir V. Putin on Tuesday portrayed the Russian military as standing firm against the long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive and suggested that the conflict was fulfilling the goals he set initially.

“The enemy did not succeed in any of the sectors,” Mr. Putin said of the Ukrainian offensive that has been rolling out over recent days, instead suffering huge losses compared with relatively few for Russia. In terms of tanks, for example, he said that Ukraine had lost 160 compared with 54 for Russia, adding that some of the latter could be repaired. His claims could not be independently confirmed.

Mr. Putin touched on virtually every aspect of the conflict in recent weeks. He chose a format he has rarely used, allowing 18 reporters to inquire about the war for more than two hours in a style reminiscent of his annual “Direct Line” performance, when he answers questions for hours from all over the country.

Russia did not need to draft more new soldiers because it had attracted about 156,000 contractors or other volunteers since January, he said, on top of the 300,000 drafted last year.

Trying to make the best of the fact that Russia had suffered repeated setbacks with both men and weaponry, he suggested that the country had learned valuable lessons on how to better organize its armed forces.

He admitted that the cross-border attacks from Ukraine by Russian partisans had been damaging, suggesting with some bravado that Russia might have to carve out an “exclusion zone” on the Ukrainian side of the border to prevent its artillery from reaching into Russia.

At one point he also suggested that the Russian Army might have to again march on Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Russian forces were driven out of Kyiv after failing to take it as promised in just a few days after the full-scale invasion in February 2022, and lost a wide stretch of the area around the eastern city of Kharkiv to a Ukrainian offensive last fall.

To Nikolai Petrov, a seasoned political analyst, the entire effort sounded as though Mr. Putin was trying to demonstrate that he was a commander in chief fully in control of the facts on the ground. More important, Mr. Petrov speculated that the remarks could be a prelude to seeking negotiations by implying that the Ukrainian counteroffensive was doomed.

Given that the general public trusts the correspondents and bloggers far more than the Ministry of Defense, his choice of interlocutors, along with throwing out details like the number of Russian tanks destroyed, was intended to build a semblance of evenhanded analysis, Mr. Petrov said.

“There is no reason for him to be so public and to give such detailed explanations unless he was trying to address a Western or Ukrainian audience,” he said. “The very idea is to demonstrate that he is the commander in chief who knows everything about everything.”

Mr. Putin claimed that Russia was doing a great job of demilitarizing Ukraine despite its Western backers. He admitted to various bits of information that had been an open secret before, like the pardons he was issuing for convicts who had fought for the Wagner private military group.

Much of what he said was not new, such as threatening to pull out of a deal that has allowed Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain from its Black Sea ports, despite Russia’s control of the waterways, saying that he was only doing it because so much of the world needed the grain.

He noted that military production had increased 2.7 times, and in some cases was 10 times greater, he said, using a somewhat odd anecdote to illustrate their quality. A T-90 Russian tank that hit a land mine had emerged unscathed, even though the person inside took such a hard hit that he died, Mr. Putin said.

In latest chapter of the feud between Sergei K. Shoigu, the minister of defense, and Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the pugnacious founder of the Wagner private military force, Mr. Prigozhin rejected a call by the Defense Ministry for all such organizations to sign contracts by July 1. The move was considered an effort by the ministry to extend some control over such forces, which are technically illegal in Russia, while also granting them full military benefits.

Mr. Putin said he backed the call for paramilitary organizations to sign such contracts. Mr. Petrov, the analyst, suggested that the president was using Mr. Prigozhin as a foil, making the president seem the more temperate figure as the mercenary commander repeatedly calls for escalating attacks against Ukraine and putting the economy on a war footing. “It is his style before any negotiation to let his guy say something horrible in order to look better,” Mr. Petrov said.

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