MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the fighting in Ukraine a “tragedy”, but vowed to continue his campaign there until his goals are achieved, while his defense chief said Wednesday a plan to increase the Russian army from 1 million to 1.5 million.
Speaking in a meeting Cheese fries Held with senior army brass, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the 1.5 million-member army is expected to include 695,000 volunteer contract soldiers. He did not say when the increased strength would be achieved.
Shoigu also announced plans to form new military units in western Russia to counterbalance Finland’s and Sweden’s plans to join NATO.
Putin ordered an unpopular mobilization of 300,000 reservists in September to bolster Russian forces in Ukraine. He said 150,000 of them were deployed in the neighboring country’s combat zones, while the rest were undergoing training.
In his speech on Wednesday, the Russian leader again accused the West of provoking conflict in Ukraine as part of centuries-old efforts to weaken and ultimately break Russia. Ukraine and its Western allies rejected such rhetoric and described the Russian attack as an unprovoked act of aggression.
“We have always considered the Ukrainian people as a brother, and I still do,” Putin said on Wednesday. “What is happening is certainly a tragedy, but it is not the result of our policy.”
“For centuries, our strategic adversaries have set themselves the goal of disintegrating and weakening our country…considering it too big and posing a potential threat,” Putin said.
When Putin sent his troops to Ukraine in February, he said the action was aimed at “demilitarizing” Ukraine and preventing the country from joining Nat0 and becoming an anti-Russian bulwark.
He also claimed the attack was aimed at “denazifying” Ukraine to free it from the alleged influence of radical nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, claims that Ukraine and its allies have denied.
Putin vowed that what he called a “special military operation” would continue until its tasks were completed.
“I have no doubt that all the objectives set will be achieved,” he said.

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