Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday used the word ‘war’ to refer to the conflict in Ukraine, the first time he publicly deviated from his carefully crafted description of the invasion of Moscow as a ‘special military operation’ 10 months after its beginning.
“Our goal is not to turn the wheel of a military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” Putin told reporters in Moscow, after attending a meeting of the State Council on youth policy. “We have been and will continue to strive for this.”
Putin’s critics say using the word ‘war’ to describe the Ukraine conflict has effectively been illegal in Russia since March, when the Russian leader signed a censorship law that makes it a crime to spread ‘false’ information about invasion, with a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for anyone convicted.
Putin’s use of the word therefore did not go unnoticed.
Nikita Yuferev, a city deputy from St. Petersburg who fled Russia because of his anti-war stance, said on Thursday he had asked Russian authorities to prosecute Putin for “spreading false information about the military”.
“There was no decree to end the special military operation, no war was declared,” Yuferev wrote on Twitter. “Several thousand people have already been convicted for such remarks about the war.”
A US official told CNN their initial assessment was that Putin’s remark was unintentional and likely a slip. However, officials will be watching closely to see what the numbers inside the Kremlin say in the coming days.
Thousands of people have been killed, entire villages wiped out and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure destroyed since Putin’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine began.
That day, Putin used the term “special military operation” to describe his attack. He described the ongoing brutality as a campaign of “denazification” – a description rejected by historians and political observers – and increasingly portrayed the unprovoked invasion of Russia as a patriotic and almost existential cause.
Putin’s comments on Thursday followed a historic trip by Volodymyr Zelensky to Washington, where the Ukrainian president delivered an impassioned speech to Congress calling for greater US support for the war effort.
During his visit, US President Joe Biden unveiled a $1.8 billion aid package for Ukraine, which includes a Patriot missile defense system – a longstanding request from Kyiv to counter attacks Russian airlines.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on Thursday, Putin called the Patriot systems “old” and said Russia was “still finding the antidote”.
“As for the Patriots, it’s quite an old system and it doesn’t work as well as our S-300 (missile system),” Putin said.
“Those who oppose us think it’s a defensive weapon, or so they say. But it’s on their minds and we’ll always find the antidote.
“So those who do this are just wasting their time, it is only delaying the conflict.”
In his speech to Congress, Zelensky briefly discussed a 10-point formula for peace and a summit he told Biden about in a previous meeting at the White House. The Ukrainian leader claimed that Biden supports peace initiatives.
Asked by a reporter on Thursday whether there was a real chance for diplomacy in Ukraine, Putin said negotiation always preceded the end of the conflict.
“All conflicts, armed conflicts too, one way or another end in some kind of negotiation,” Putin said, accusing Zelensky of refusing to negotiate.
“We never refused, it was the Ukrainian leadership who refused to conduct negotiations… sooner or later, any party to the conflict will sit down and negotiate and sooner those who oppose us will walk away. report, the better,” he said.
“We never gave up on that.”
Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday that the Kremlin would make a substantial investment in many areas of the military. Initiatives include increasing the size of the armed forces, accelerating weapons programs and deploying a new generation of hypersonic missiles to prepare Russia for what Putin called “inevitable clashes” with adversaries. .