Vladimir Putin vowed on Thursday to have something to “retaliate” for Western arms supplies to Ukraine, a threat that comes amid speculation of a new Russian military build-up.
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Speaking on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory in Stalingrad, the Russian president drew a new parallel between Russia’s aggression against its neighbors and World War II.
For Mr Putin, the conflict in Ukraine is part of the legacy of the Soviet Union’s victory over Hitler. He accused the Ukrainian authorities of being “neo-Nazis” for the “genocide” of the Russian-speaking population.
On Thursday, he felt that history was about to repeat itself by providing German tanks to Ukraine to fight against Russia.
“It’s unbelievable, but the German Panther tanks are threatening us again,” said Mr. Putin stressed: “We have something to answer for, and it will not be limited to armored vehicles”.
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In the process, his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, noted that Russia would use all its capabilities to respond to Western arms deliveries. Last fall, Mr.
“When new weapons appear from the ‘collective West’, Russia will fully use its existing capabilities to respond,” Peskov said.
After a long delay amid fears the conflict would escalate, the West finally agreed recently to send modern tanks to Ukraine, including German-designed Panthers, American Abrams and British Challengers.
But Kiev has yet to acquire the high-precision missiles with ranges of more than 100 km that the military says are needed to hit Russian logistics lines.
Many observers believe that both Kyiv and Moscow are planning new attacks for late winter and spring.
After a series of humiliating setbacks in the fall, the Kremlin mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists and stepped up its ground offensive, particularly in the east.
On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky followed in the footsteps of his Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, by announcing that Russia was planning a new major offensive on February 24, the first anniversary of the Russian attack.
“Russia is amassing its forces, we all know that. It wants to take revenge not only on Ukraine, but also on independent Europe,” he said during a press conference with European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen.
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His defense minister noted on Wednesday that Moscow was preparing “very seriously” to “try something on February 24”.
Russian forces have had some success in recent weeks in the battleground around Pakmut, which they have been trying to capture since the summer, and which has been reduced to rubble.
“If we had electricity, everything would be easier, we could heat ourselves, cook,” one of its residents, Natalia Shevchenko, 75, told AFP.
“The worst thing is that there is no (phone) network. I can’t call my family,” she continues.
Nevertheless, Natalia remains intact, even as constant bombings force her to live underground “like a mole” in a cellar.
In Kiev, Ursula von der Leyen again pledged Europe’s unwavering support for Ukraine and said she would impose additional sanctions against Russia by February 24.
He did not give details of his intentions for this tenth package, but promised that Russia would “pay for the destruction it has caused.” Mr Zelensky called on Europeans to act “quickly”.
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