Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the military operation in Ukraine had gained positive momentum and that he hoped his soldiers would deliver more wins after Russia claimed control of the eastern Ukrainian salt-mining town of Soledar.
Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine has triggered one of the deadliest European conflicts since World War Two and the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Russia said on Friday that its forces had taken control of Soledar, a rare success for Moscow after months of battlefield reverses.
“The dynamic is positive,” Putin told Rossiya 1 state television when asked about the taking of Soledar. “Everything is developing within the framework of the plan of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff.”
“And I hope that our fighters will please us even more with the results of their combat,” Putin said.
Putin now casts the war in Ukraine as an existential battle with an aggressive and arrogant West, and has said that Russia will use all available means to protect itself and its people against any aggressor.
The United States and its allies have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an imperial land grab, while Ukraine has vowed to fight until the last Russian soldier is ejected from its territory.
A regional governor in Ukraine on Saturday said that Ukrainian forces were still fighting to retain control of Soledar. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said it was highly unlikely that Ukrainian forces still held positions within Soledar itself.
Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in Soledar.
Neither side publish up to date figures on the death toll from the war.
Although the West has imposed what it says are unprecedented sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, the economy of the world’s biggest producer of natural resources has shown resilience.
Putin says Russia is now turning away from the West and will trade with Asian powers such as China and India.
“The situation in the economy is stable,” Putin said. “Much better than not only what our opponents predicted but also what we forecast.”
Putin said unemployment was a key indicator.
“Unemployment is at a historic low. Inflation is lower than expected and has, importantly, a downward trend.”
Russia’s economy contracted in 2022 under the weight of sanctions, but way less than the collapse many economists forecast.
Many sectors such as aviation and automaking have been badly hit and some economists say the rise in weapons production has cushioned the contraction.
The $2.1 trillion economy is forecast by the Russian government to contract by 0.8% in 2023.
Russia’s 2023 budget is based on a Urals blend price of around $70.1 a barrel, though Russia’s main blend is currently trading at below $50 a barrel.
(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)