© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference in Minsk, Belarus on December 19, 2022. via Sputnik/Pavel Petnyakov/Kremlin REUTERS/
By Jake Cordell
(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday devoted his annual New Year’s address to rallying the Russian people behind his troops fighting in Ukraine and promising victory against Ukrainian “neo-Nazis” and the West, who are bent on “destroying Russia.”
In a scathing and bellicose recorded video message broadcast on national television, Putin called the war a “special military operation” — an almost existential fight for Russia’s future.
Its soldiers, he said, “must be guaranteed the protection of Russia … for our motherland, truth and justice.”
For months, the Kremlin presented the conflict as a limited campaign that would not affect the lives of most Russians.
But the speech, delivered in front of stern-faced soldiers in combat uniform, focused on the war and said families gathered for the main celebration of the year would need everyone’s support and sacrifice in the coming months.
The news was broadcast in millions of homes on state television as families exchanged festive food and gifts before the clocks struck midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.
As the war drags into its 11th month, the Kremlin has slowly put society on a war footing — calling in more than 300,000 reservists, often in chaotic fashion, to revive an economy battered by a barrage of Western sanctions. Publicly stating that the conflict could be prolonged.
Moscow was unprepared for the fierce resistance, the billions of dollars in Western arms diverted to Ukraine, and Russian troops forced out of half of the territory they captured in the first weeks of the war.
In a nine-minute speech – the longest of his 22 years in power – Putin took aim at opponents of the conflict that has now defined his tenure and Russia’s relations with the world.
The past year, he said, “has put many things in their place – clearly separating courage and heroism from treachery and cowardice.”
Rejecting Kiev’s calls for Russian troops to withdraw ahead of talks, Putin said Russia was “defending our people and our historical territory”.
He accused the West of lying to Russia and inciting Moscow to launch its military campaign.
“The West lied about peace,” Putin said. “It was preparing for aggression … and now they are cynically using Ukraine and its people to weaken and divide Russia.
“We have never allowed this and we will never allow anyone to do this to us.”
Kyiv and the West reject Putin’s repeated accusations that the Western NATO alliance plans to use Ukraine as a platform to threaten Russia.
Although Russia has not made any major battlefield gains in the past six months, Putin has promised eventual victory.
He said that we all will unite and overcome all the dangers and protect the pride and freedom of our country.
“We will win for our families and for Russia.”