Russian president Vladimir Putin has vowed to press his attack on Ukraine despite that country’s latest counter-offensive.
He also warned that Moscow could ramp up its strikes on vital Ukraine’s infrastructure if Ukrainian forces target facilities in Russia.
Speaking to reporters after attending a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Mr Putin said the “liberation” of Ukraine’s entire eastern Donbas region remained Russia’s main military goal and that he sees no need to revise it.
“We aren’t in a rush,” the Russian leader said, adding that Moscow has only deployed volunteer soldiers to fight in Ukraine.
Some hard-line politicians and military bloggers have urged the Kremlin to follow Ukraine’s example and order a broad mobilisation to beef up the ranks, lamenting Russia’s manpower shortage.
Russia was forced to pull back its forces from large swathes of north-eastern Ukraine last week after a swift Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Ukraine’s move to reclaim control of several Russian-occupied cities and villages marked the largest military setback for Moscow since its forces had to retreat from areas near the capital early in the war.
In his first comment on the Ukrainian counter-offensive, Mr Putin said: “Let’s see how it develops and how it ends.”
He noted that Ukraine has tried to strike civilian infrastructure in Russia and “we so far have responded with restraint”.
“If the situation develops this way, our response will be more serious,” the Russian leader added.
“Just recently, the Russian armed forces have delivered a couple of impactful strikes,” he said, in an apparent reference to Russian attacks earlier this week on power plants in northern Ukraine and a dam
in the south.
“Let’s consider those as warning strikes.”
Mr Putin alleged, without offering specifics, that Ukraine has attempted to launch attacks “near our nuclear facilities, nuclear power plants”, adding that “we will retaliate if they fail to understand that such methods are unacceptable”.
Russia has reported numerous explosions and fires at civilian infrastructure in areas near Ukraine, as well as munitions depots and other facilities. Ukraine has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks and refrained from commenting on others.
Mr Putin also sought to assuage India’s concern about the conflict in Ukraine, telling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the SCO summit that Moscow wants to see a quick end to the fighting. He also alleged that Ukrainian officials have refused to negotiate.
“I know your stand on the conflict in Ukraine and the concerns that you have repeatedly voiced,” the Russian leader told Mr Modi.
“We will do all we can to end that as quickly as possible. Regrettably, the other side, the leadership of Ukraine, has rejected the negotiations process and stated that it wants to achieve its goals by military means, on the battlefield.”
I praise the decision by @POTUS to allocate up to $600 million as another defense aid package for 🇺🇦. Our interaction proved its efficiency on the front. 🇺🇦 strives for freedom. And with the solidarity & sincere support of partners, it amazes the whole world. Together we’ll win!
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) September 16, 2022
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said it is Russia that allegedly does not want to negotiate in earnest. He also has insisted on the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied areas of Ukraine as a precondition for talks.
Mr Putin’s remarks during the talks with Modi echoed comments the Russian leader made during Thursday’s meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping when Mr Putin thanked him for his government’s “balanced position” on the Ukraine war, while adding that he was ready to discuss China’s unspecified “concerns” about Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Mr Putin said he and Mr Xi had “discussed what we should do in the current conditions to efficiently counter unlawful restrictions” imposed by the West.
The European Union, the United States and other Western nations have put sanctions on Russian energy due to the war in Ukraine.
Mr Xi, in a statement released by his government, expressed support for Russia’s “core interests” but also expressed an interest in working together to “inject stability” into world affairs.
China’s relations with Washington, Europe, Japan and India have been strained by disputes about technology, security, human rights and territory.
Zhang Lihua, an international relations expert at Tsinghua University, said the reference to stability “is mainly related to China-US relations”, adding that “the United States has been using all means to suppress China, which forced China to seek cooperation with Russia”.
China and India have refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine while increasing their purchases of Russian oil and gas, helping Moscow offset the financial restrictions imposed by the US and its allies.
Mr Putin also met with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss bolstering economic cooperation and regional issues, including a July deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations that allowed Ukrainian grain exports to resume from the country’s Black Sea ports.
Speaking at the SCO summit on Friday, Mr Xi warned his Central Asian neighbours not to allow outsiders to destabilise them.
The warning reflects Beijing’s anxiety that Western support for democracy and human rights activists is a plot to undermine Mr Xi’s ruling Communist Party and other authoritarian governments.
“We should prevent external forces from instigating a colour revolution,” Mr Xi said in a speech to the leaders of SCO member nations, referring to protests that toppled unpopular regimes in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.
Mr Xi offered to train 2,000 police officers, to set up a regional counter-terrorism training centre and to “strengthen law enforcement capacity building”.
His comments echoed longstanding Russian grievances about the colour-coded democratic uprisings in several ex-Soviet nations that the Kremlin viewed as instigated by the US and its allies.
Had productive multilateral and bilateral engagements at the SCO Summit. I thank the people and Government of Uzbekistan for their hospitality.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 16, 2022
Mr Xi is promoting a “Global Security Initiative” announced in April following the formation of the Quad group by the US, Japan, Australia and India in response to Beijing’s more assertive foreign policy.
US officials complain it echoes Russian arguments in support of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Central Asia is part of China’s multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative to expand trade by building ports, railways and other infrastructure across an arc of dozens of countries from the South Pacific through Asia to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was formed by Russia and China as a counterweight to US influence.
The group also includes India, Pakistan and the four ex-Soviet Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Iran is on track to receive full membership.