In a rare public admission, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the four Ukrainian provinces that his country is partially occupying present difficult conditions for its forces. Moscow’s forces have been using Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure as a target because they have been unable to advance on the battlefield.
Putin reportedly urged the nation’s security and intelligence agencies to “significantly improve” their work and continue efforts to “prevent terrorist attacks” in a video address, according to the Russian state-run news agency TASS.
Putin has previously referred to the fall of the bridge in October connecting Russia with the Crimean Peninsula that had been illegitimately annexed as a “terrorist attack.”
The Russian leader urged the security agencies to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of “Russian people” living there and added that the security situation was “extremely complicated” in the four occupied Ukrainian territories, which Moscow claims to have illegally annexed after a fake referendum earlier this year.
Putin continued, saying it was essential to “put an end to the activities of foreign special services once and for all, and to swiftly identify traitors, spies, and saboteurs.”
Since the beginning of the invasion, Putin and his allies have repeatedly asserted without providing any supporting data that they are engaged in combat in Ukraine against “neo-Nazis,” mercenaries, and Western military forces.
The New York Times reported that Putin also instructed Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) to ensure that all public gatherings in these occupied regions are “under constant control” and that more skilled personnel and equipment will be dispatched there.
Russia announced in September that it was holding a referendum in the occupied provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia—widely derided by Ukraine and the West as a sham—after its forces were humiliatingly routed in the north-east Ukrainian region of Kharkiv. Moscow declared it was annexing the four occupied territories after the staged referendum.
The four annexed provinces’ inhabitants will acquire Russian citizenship “forever,” according to the Russian president. Putin has declared these areas to be essential components of Russia, but only Luhansk is truly under Russian control. Since the annexation, Ukrainian forces have been successful in retaking large portions of these provinces, including the city of Kherson, the provincial capital, handing Russian forces yet another significant military setback. Moscow has turned to using long-range weapons mounted on suicide drones to attack Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure, including power plants, in an effort to regain its momentum after being stopped by Ukraine’s fierce defenses.
Despite its military shortcomings, Russia has continued to repress any criticism of the conflict. Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire and businessman in the aluminum industry, expressed concern earlier this year about the possibility of “victory” in the conflict and warned against the destruction of Ukraine, calling it a “colossal mistake.” Deripaska acknowledged that Russia was suffering from western sanctions and claimed that the nation had “abandoned everything” in terms of economic progress made in the years following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that a billionaire’s Sochi luxury hotel complex had been seized as a result of a Russian court’s order, probably in retaliation for Deripaska’s remarks.
While the legal dispute surrounding the hotel complex began before the invasion of Ukraine, the FT report notes that court order came after Deripaska was ordered by the Kremlin to stop criticizing the war.