President Vladimir Putin has blasted the West for trying to “tear apart” Russia and said in an interview aired on national television that his offensive in Ukraine aimed to “unite the Russian people”.
Meanwhile, residents of Kyiv, a day after deadly shelling in southern Ukraine, held Christmas services on Sunday, defying Russian spiritual leaders who celebrate it on January 7.
Putin has used the concept of “historical Russia” to argue that Ukrainians and Russians are one people — undermining Kyiv’s sovereignty and justifying his 10-month offensive in Ukraine.
He said Russia’s “geopolitical opponents (were, ) aiming to tear apart Russia, the historical Russia”.
“Divide and conquer, that’s what they have always sought to accomplish and are still seeking to do,” Putin added.
“But our goal is different: it’s to unite the Russian people,” he said.
Putin declared his government was acting “in the right direction… protecting our national interests, the interests of our citizens, of our people.”
He repeated that Moscow was ready to negotiate and appeared unfazed when asked about the new air defence system the United States will deliver to Ukraine.
“Of course we will destroy it, 100 percent!” Putin said, referring to the Patriot missile battery promised to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Earlier this week, in his first trip outside Ukraine since the offensive began, Zelensky earned firm pledges of support from US President Joe Biden, including the Pentagon’s most advanced air defence system.
Western military and financial aid has been crucial for Ukraine’s pushback of Russian troops — including from Kherson, the only regional capital that was held by Russia.
Despite Russia’s retreat from the city, it remains within reach of Moscow’s weaponry and under constant threat.
The Ukrainian army counted 71 strikes on the partly recaptured Kherson region on Saturday, including 41 on the city.
This included deadly shelling on a busy market in the city centre that left 10 people dead and 55 injured.