Putin Says There Will Be No Peace in Ukraine Until His Goals Are Achieved

Putin Says There Will Be No Peace in Ukraine Until His Goals Are Achieved
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow on Dec. 14, 2023. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo)

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday there would be no peace in Ukraine until the Kremlin realizes its goals, which remain unchanged after nearly two years of fighting that has sent tensions soaring between Moscow and the West.

Speaking at a year-end news conference, Mr. Putin gave some rare details on what Moscow calls its “special military operation.”

He dismissed the need for a second wave of mobilization of reservists to fight in Ukraine. He said there are some 617,000 Russian soldiers there, including around 244,000 troops who were called up to fight alongside professional military forces.

“There will be peace when we will achieve our goals,” Mr. Putin said, repeating a frequent Kremlin line. “Victory will be ours.”

Mr. Putin, who has held power for nearly 24 years and announced last week he is running for reelection, was greeted with applause as he arrived in the hall in central Moscow.

This year, ordinary citizens had the chance to phone in questions along with those from journalists, and Russian state media said at least 2 million questions for Mr. Putin had been submitted ahead of time.

It is the first time Mr. Putin faced questions from Western journalists since the fighting in Ukraine began.

The news conference opened with questions about Ukraine and highlighted concerns some Russians have about another wave of mobilization.

“There is no need” for mobilization now, Mr. Putin said, because 1,500 men are being recruited into the army every day. As of Wednesday evening, 486,000 soldiers have signed a contract with the Russian military, he said.

He reiterated that Moscow’s goals in Ukraine—“de-Nazification, de-militarization, and a neutral status” of Ukraine—remain unchanged. He had spelled out those objectives the day he sent troops into its neighbor in February 2022.

Mr. Putin has also demanded that Ukraine remain neutral and refrain from joining NATO.

Mr. Putin’s last news conference was in 2021 amid U.S warnings that Russia was on the brink of sending troops into Ukraine. He delayed his annual state-of-the-nation address until February of this year.

Relations since then between Russia and the U.S. have plunged to new lows as the conflict has continued and after Moscow detained U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich while on a reporting trip to Russia in March.

Shortly before Mr. Putin spoke, a Russian court ruled that Mr. Gershkovich, 32, must stay behind bars until at least Jan. 30.

U.S citizen Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, also has been jailed in Russia since his 2018 arrest on espionage-related charges.

Russia recently rejected an offer to bring home Mr. Gershkovich and Mr. Whelan, who both have been declared wrongfully detained by the U.S. government.

“We’re not refusing to return them,” Mr. Putin said Thursday, adding that he wanted to reach an agreement but “it’s not easy.”

He refused to go into details of any exchange but said Washington “must hear us” and make an offer that satisfies Russia.

He also fielded questions from a group of children in Crimea about the leaking roof and mold in their sports hall and a woman who addressed “my favorite president” to complain about the soaring price of eggs.

“I regret and apologize about that. A glitch in the work of the government,” Mr. Putin replied, explaining that egg production has not matched demand and blaming the government for not increasing imports quickly enough.

Mr. Putin was asked by an artificial intelligence version of himself, speaking with his face and voice, on whether he uses body doubles—a subject of intense speculation by some Kremlin watchers. Mr. Putin brushed off the suggestion.

“Only one person should look like myself and talk in my voice—that person is going to be me,” he said, deadpanning: “By the way, this is my first double.”

Journalists lined up in freezing temperatures to get into the venue hours before Mr. Putin’s arrival and some donned traditional dress, including elaborate hats to catch his attention. Many journalists also held placards, prompting the Kremlin to limit their size.

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