Putin says Russian military operation going well in Ukraine
By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said the military operation in Ukraine had gained positive momentum and that he hoped his soldiers would achieve more victories after Russia claimed control of the eastern Ukrainian salt mining town of Soledar.
Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has sparked one of the deadliest European conflicts since World War II and the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Russia said on Friday that its forces had taken control of Soledar, a rare success for Moscow after months of shifting battlefields.
“The dynamics are positive,” Putin told state-run Rossiya 1 television when asked about Soledar’s acquisition. “Everything is being developed within the plan of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff”.
“And I hope that our fighters will please us even more with the results of their fight,” Putin said.
Putin now views the war in Ukraine as an existential battle with an aggressive and arrogant West and has said Russia will use all available means to defend itself and its people against any aggressor.
The United States and its allies have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an imperial land grab, while Ukraine has vowed to fight until the last Russian soldier is expelled from its territory.
A regional governor in Ukraine said Saturday that Ukrainian forces were still fighting to keep control of Soledar. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said it was highly unlikely that Ukrainian forces still held positions inside Soledar itself.
Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in Soledar.
Neither side publishes updated figures on the death toll from the war.
Although the West has imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, the economy of the world’s largest producer of natural resources has shown resilience.
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Putin says Russia is now turning away from the West and will trade with Asian powers such as China and India.
“The situation in the economy is stable,” Putin said. “Much better than not only what our opponents predicted, but also what we predicted.”
Putin said unemployment was a key indicator.
“Unemployment is at an all-time low. Inflation is lower than expected and, most importantly, on a downward trend.”
Russia’s economy shrank in 2022 under the weight of sanctions, but far less than the collapse many economists predicted.
Many sectors such as aviation and auto manufacturing have been hit hard, and some economists say increased arms production has cushioned the contraction.
The $2.1 trillion economy is projected by the Russian government to contract by 0.8% in 2023.
Russia’s 2023 budget is based on a Urals blend price of around $70.1 a barrel, although Russia’s main blend is currently trading below $50 a barrel.
(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)