Putin says situation extremely difficult in four Russian-controlled Ukrainian areas

KYIV – President Vladimir Putin said the situation in four areas of Ukraine that Moscow has declared are part of Russia was “extremely difficult” as Kyiv renewed calls for more weapons after Russian drones hit energy targets.

In comments made on Security Services Day, which is widely celebrated in Russia, Mr Putin also ordered the strengthening of Russia’s borders and instructed special services to keep greater control of society and ensure the safety of people in Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine.

In September, a defiant Putin moved to annex a swathe of Ukraine – some 15 per cent of the country – in a Kremlin ceremony, but earlier this month, he said the war “can be a long process”.

To Russian security agencies operating in Ukraine, he said late on Monday in comments translated by Reuters: “Yes, it is difficult for you now. The situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions is extremely difficult.”

Mr Putin’s move to annex the areas was condemned by Kyiv and its Western allies as illegal.

On Monday, he made his first visit to Belarus since 2019, where he and his counterpart extolled ever-closer ties at a news conference late in the evening but hardly mentioned Ukraine.

Kyiv, meanwhile, was seeking more weapons from the West after Russian “kamikaze” drones hit energy targets.

“Weapons, shells, new defence capabilities… everything that will give us the ability to speed up the end to this war,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening address.

The Ukrainian military high command said their air defences had shot down 23 of 28 drones – most over the capital Kyiv – in what was Moscow’s third air strike in six days. Russia has targeted Ukraine’s power grid, causing blackouts amid sub-zero temperatures.

The drone strikes caused no casualties, though nine buildings were damaged in the Kyiv region, it said.

The Ukrainian atomic energy agency accused Russia of sending one of the drones over part of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant in the Mykolaiv region.

The “kamikaze” drones used in the attacks are cheaply produced, disposable unmanned aircraft that fly toward their target before plummeting at speed and detonating on impact.

To the north-west of Ukraine, there has been constant Russian and Belarusian military activity for months in Belarus, a close Kremlin ally that Moscow’s troops used as a launch pad for their abortive attack on Kyiv in February.

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