“That Blitzkrieg on which our foes were counting did not work,” Putin said. “The United States is ready to fight with Russia until the last Ukrainian – that is the way it is.”
Putin, who had been ubiquitous on Russian television in the early days of the war, had largely retreated from public view since Russia’s withdrawal from northern Ukraine two weeks ago.
His only public appearance in the past week was at the funeral of a nationalist lawmaker, where he did not directly address the war. On Monday he met the visiting chancellor of Austria at a country residence outside Moscow but no images of that meeting were released.
‘Bucha is fake’
Since Russian troops withdrew from towns and villages around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Ukrainian troops have been showing journalists corpses of what they say are civilians killed by Russian forces, destroyed houses and burnt-out cars.
Reuters saw dead bodies in the town of Bucha but could not independently verify who was responsible for the killings. Ukraine says Russia is guilty of genocide and US President Joe Biden has accused Putin of war crimes and called for a trial.
Putin, meanwhile, dismissed Ukrainian and Western claims that Russia had committed war crimes as fakes.
Employing the Russia propaganda rhetoric known as ‘whataboutism’, Putin said he had told Western leaders to think a little about destruction by the United States of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State caliphate, and in Afghanistan.
(‘Whataboutism’, for which the Kremlin is known, means to deflect attention from one subject by pointing to another and asking essentially ‘what about that?’)
“Have you seen how this Syrian city was turned to rubble by American aircraft? Corpses lay in the ruins for months decomposing,” Putin said. “Nobody cared. No one even noticed.”
Putin, who says Ukraine and Russia are essentially one people, casts the war as an inevitable confrontation with the United States, which he accuses of threatening Russia by meddling in its backyard.
Sixty one years to the day since the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin blasted off into the history books by becoming the first man in space, Putin drew an analogy between Soviet space successes and Russia’s defiance today.
“The sanctions were total, the isolation was complete but the Soviet Union was still first in space,” he said.
“We don’t intend to be isolated,” Putin added. “It is impossible to severely isolate anyone in the modern world – especially such a vast country as Russia.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the world may yet see worse atrocities unfold than those already reported since the Russian invasion of Ukraine more than six weeks ago.
“We have credible information that Russian forces may use a variety of riot control agents” to weaken and incapacitate Ukrainian fighters and civilians as part of a campaign to take the besieged city of Mariupol, he said.
Like other US officials, he said he couldn’t confirm allegations that chemical agents already have been used by Russia in Ukraine.
“We’re in direct conversation with partners to try to determine what actually has happened,” he said
Ukraine said it was investigating a claim that a poisonous substance had been dropped on its troops in the eastern Donbas. It was not clear what the substance might be, but Western officials warned that any use of chemical weapons by Russia would be a serious escalation of the already devastating war.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it was also concerned by the reports of chemical weapons use. A spokesman said OPCW, the global chemical weapons watchdog, was monitoring the situation.
Blinken said worse atrocities may yet unfold in Ukraine as Russian forces push to take Mariupol.
Allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces committed war crimes intensified last week amid outrage at the large numbers of casualties in towns surrounding Kyiv as Russian forces withdrew to concentrate in the east. They left behind civilian bodies in the streets as stories of rape and looting emerged.
Russian troops, thwarted in their push toward Ukraine’s capital, are now focusing on the eastern Donbas region.
On the diplomatic front, a planned visit to Kyiv by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was rejected by Ukraine, he said on Tuesday, following a report that President Volodymyr Zelensky was critical of Steinmeier’s historical advocacy of Russia.
Steinmeier had planned to visit Kyiv with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda and the presidents of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia “to send a strong signal of European solidarity with Ukraine there,” he told journalists during a visit to Warsaw.
“I was ready for that. But apparently – and I have to admit – that was not wanted in Kyiv,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether the other European leaders would visit without Steinmeier. Ukrainian authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bild newspaper reported earlier on Tuesday that Zelensky had rejected Steinmeier’s plans to visit due to his close relations with Russia in recent years and his years of support for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a project designed to double the flow of Russian gas direct to Germany. The project has since been cancelled.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a social media backlash, Steinmeier expressed regret for his earlier stance. He said his years of support for Nord Stream 2 had been clearly a mistake.
Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who served as foreign minister under Chancellor Angela Merkel before being elevated to the presidency, has known Russian President Vladimir Putin since 2001.
“That Putin from the year 2001 has nothing in common with the Putin of 2022, who we are now experiencing as a brutal, entrenched warmonger,” Steinmeier has said.
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