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Putin says peace talks are at ‘a dead end’ and calls atrocities in Bucha ‘fake’

The charred wrecks of cars sit outside a destroyed hotel called Babushkin Sad, or Granny’s Garden, in Mriia, Ukraine, west of Kyiv, on Monday, April 11, 2022.

By Anton Troianovski

President Vladimir Putin of Russia said on Tuesday that peace talks with Ukraine had reached a “dead end” and called the evidence of Russian atrocities in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha “fake,” using his first extended remarks about the war in nearly a month to insist that Russia would persist with its invasion.

Speaking at a news conference at a spaceport in Russia’s Far East, Putin said that Ukraine had changed its position after the round of peace talks held in Istanbul on March 29 to one that was no longer acceptable to the Kremlin. While there were indications that Ukraine had this week again adopted a more constructive stance, he said, Russia’s “military operation will continue until its full completion” and its goals are met.

Those goals, he said, centered on the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian and Western officials expect that Russia will soon mount an intense offensive.

While Russia’s initial offensive is widely seen as a failure because its forces failed to take Kyiv and had to retreat, Putin insisted on Tuesday — as he did in the first weeks of the war — that what he calls the “special military operation” was going “according to plan.”

“We will act rhythmically and calmly, according to the plan that was initially proposed by the general staff,” Putin said. “Our goal is to help the people who live in the Donbas, who feel their unbreakable bond with Russia.”

He said repeatedly that Russia had no choice but to invade Ukraine because a clash with Western-trained “neo-Nazis” in that country was inevitable.

“What is happening in Ukraine is a tragedy,” Putin said in a news conference after a meeting at the spaceport with President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, his closest international ally. “They just didn’t leave us a choice. There was no choice.”

Tuesday’s news conference appeared to be geared in great part to reinforcing Putin’s support at home. Ever since he appeared before tens of thousands at a Moscow stadium on March 18, Putin’s public appearances have been limited to brief clips showing him meeting with government officials, mostly by video link, in which he did not comment on the peace talks or the war. Instead, he let his Defense Ministry and other officials do the talking.

Putin emerged from his cocoon Monday for an off-camera meeting at his residence outside Moscow with Chancellor Karl Nehammer of Austria, a session that left Nehammer convinced that Putin was planning a “violent” assault on the Donbas.

On Tuesday, Putin arrived in the Amur Region of Russia’s Far East and was shown in video released by the Kremlin chatting informally with workers at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a sprawling new spaceport that has been plagued by construction delays and remains unfinished.

Putin told the workers that Russia would continue reinvigorating its space program, including plans to launch an unmanned mission to the moon scheduled for this year. The video appeared to be an effort to signal to television viewers that Russia’s economy could remain vibrant despite Western sanctions.

During the news conference, Putin said the Russian economy had withstood the initial shock of sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine. He listed the ruble’s comeback, as well as the central bank’s decision to lower its key interest rate, as examples, saying that the world was too dependent on Russian food and energy exports to afford its complete isolation.

It was Western countries, he insisted, that would soon feel the political backlash from the economic pain wrought by the sanctions, as evidenced by rising prices for food and fuel. European countries, in particular, had shown yet again that they were acting as “poodles” of the United States, he said.

“They always miscalculate, not understanding that in difficult conditions, the Russian people always unite,” Putin said.

Asked about the atrocities in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, Putin responded by talking about the bombing of the Syrian city of Raqqa by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, reprising his well-worn argument about “double standards” that he says have given the United States a pass on its own immoral actions.

“Dead bodies were really lying in the ruins for months and decomposing, and no one cared,” Putin said. “No one even noticed.”

As for Bucha, Putin said that the alleged atrocities were “fake,” though he did not offer evidence of his claim, nor did he give details on how what he called the “provocation” had been orchestrated. Earlier in the news conference, Lukashenko offered his own version, claiming, without providing evidence, that British operatives had organized the killings.

“We discussed in detail this psychological special operation that the English carried out,” Lukashenko said, referring to Bucha.

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