MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin has criticized the West for trying to ‘tear apart’ Russia and said in an interview broadcast on national television that his offensive in Ukraine was aimed at ‘uniting the Russian people’.
Meanwhile in Kyiv, the day after a deadly bombardment in southern Ukraine, residents held Christmas services on Sunday, defying Russian spiritual leaders who celebrate it on January 7.
Putin used the concept of “historical Russia” to assert that Ukrainians and Russians are one people, undermining Kyiv’s sovereignty and justifying his 10-month offensive in Ukraine.
He said that “geopolitical opponents (aimed) at Russia to tear apart Russia, historical Russia”.
“Divide and conquer is what they have always sought to achieve and are still seeking to do,” Putin added.
“But our goal is different: it’s to unite the Russian people,” he said.
Putin said his government was moving “in the right direction…protecting our national interests, the interests of our citizens, our people.”
He reiterated that Moscow was ready to negotiate and seemed unfazed when asked about the new air defense system the United States will provide to Ukraine.
“Of course, we will destroy it, 100%! Putin said, referring to the Patriot missile battery promised to the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Earlier this week, on his first trip outside Ukraine since the offensive began, Zelenskyy secured firm pledges of support from US President Joe Biden, including the Pentagon’s most advanced air defense system.
Western military and financial assistance was crucial to Ukraine’s pushback of Russian troops, including Khersonthe only regional capital held by Russia.
Despite Russia’s withdrawal from the city, it remains within arm’s reach of Moscow and under constant threat.
The Ukrainian army on Saturday counted 71 strikes on the partially recaptured region of Kherson, including 41 on the city.
This included deadly shelling of a bustling downtown market that left 10 dead and 55 injured.
Russian leader of Kherson region Vladimir Saldo said on Telegram that the bombing was “a disgusting provocation” by Ukraine used to blame Russia.
In his daily address on Sunday, Zelenskyy condemned Russian “terrorists” and thanked all his compatriots – including soldiers, doctors, volunteers – involved in Ukraine’s defense.
“Thank you…to everyone who came to Kherson to help. To save the wounded from the terrorist attack on Christmas. Artillery and mortar against the ordinary streets of Kherson…monsters!” Zelensky said.
On Sunday, church bells rang across Kyiv as Orthodox Christians attended Christmas services, breaking away from Russian spiritual leaders who will mark the holiday in two weeks.
During a service in central Kyiv, the faithful Olga Stanko told AFP that she supported any initiative that would distance Ukraine from Russia.
“The war has brought us so much grief,” she said. “We can’t do that with Russia, stay under its influence.”
Also attending the service, Olena Zakharova-Gorianska said she was happy to celebrate Christmas on December 25 for the first time, describing it as an obvious choice after surviving Russian occupation in the town of Gostomel, north of Kyiv.
“I want nothing to do with the occupiers, with the enemy,” she said.
The decision by some Ukrainian churches to observe Christmas on December 25 highlights the deepening rift between religious leaders in Kyiv and Moscow.
An Interfax-Ukraine poll showed a growing number of people in favor of moving the Christian holy day to December 25, rising from 26% in 2021 to 44% in 2022, although 31% still oppose it.
Ukraine had been under Moscow’s spiritual leadership since at least the 17th century, but part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church broke with Moscow in 2019 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in ballast.
In May, the Russian-backed branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church also severed ties with Moscow.
From St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Pope Francis called for an end to the conflict.
“May the Lord…enlighten the minds of those who have the power to silence the thunder of arms and bring an immediate end to this senseless war!” said the Argentine pontiff.

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