Putin, in New Year address, makes only passing reference to Ukraine

Putin, in New Year address, makes only passing reference to Ukraine
Putin, in New Year address, makes only passing reference to Ukraine

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Russian President Vladimir Putin portrayed Russia and its people as united, supportive and 'firm in defending national interests, our freedom and security, our values'. — Sputnik pic via Reuters

MOSCOW, Dec 31 — Russian President Vladimir Putin, facing an election in March, made only passing reference in his New Year address on Sunday to his war in Ukraine, hailing his soldiers as heroes but mostly emphasising unity and shared determination.

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The pre-recorded address, being aired just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones, was in sharp contrast to last year, when he stood behind grim-looking soldiers to make a stern call for sacrifice in what he cast as a fight for survival.

“To everyone who is at a combat post, at the forefront of the fight for truth and justice: You are our heroes, our hearts are with you. We are proud of you, we admire your courage,” Putin said, this time with the more traditional backdrop of the Kremlin walls.

Ukraine was not mentioned by name, nor the “special military operation”, Putin’s term for the war he unleashed in February 2022 by sending Russia’s armed forces into Ukraine.

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With all significant opposition forces suppressed, along with any expressions of political dissent, the 71-year-old is certain to win the election and extend his 24 years in power.

Yet in the last few months, with the war largely deadlocked, he has toned down his previously strident, nationalistic messaging on Ukraine and given more public attention to the economy and inflation - issues likely to be closer to the hearts of voters.

“We have proven more than once that we can solve the most difficult problems and will never retreat, because there is no force that can divide us,” he said.

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There was no mention in his speech of the hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers estimated to have been killed or wounded, or the repeated spilling over of the conflict onto home territory, seen dramatically in Saturday’s Ukrainian attack on the city of Belgorod, 34 km (21 miles) from the border.

The armed mutiny in June by the late Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner mercenary group, was also notably absent from Putin’s speech.

Instead, Putin portrayed Russia and its people as united, supportive and “firm in defending national interests, our freedom and security, our values”.

“Working for the common good has united society,” he said. “We are united in our thoughts, in work and in battle, on weekdays and holidays, showing the most important traits of the Russian people - solidarity, mercy, fortitude.”

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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