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Putin raises prospect of escalation in Ukraine, slams 'economic blitzkrieg against Russia'

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia had barely got started in Ukraine and dared the West to try to defeat it on the battlefield, while insisting that Moscow was still open to the idea of peace talks.

Russian leader says prospects for peace talks grow dimmer as conflict drags on

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to members of the State Duma and the Federal Assembly of The Russian Federation in the Kremlin in on Thursday. (Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool/AP)

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia had barely got started in Ukraine and dared the West to try to defeat it on the battlefield, while insisting that Moscow was still open to the idea of peace talks.

In a hawkish speech to parliamentary leaders more than four months into the war, Putin said the prospects for any negotiation would grow dimmer the longer the conflict dragged on.

"Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. What can you say, let them try," he said.

"We have heard many times that the West wants to fight us to the last Ukrainian. This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but it seems that everything is heading toward this."

Russia accuses the West of waging a proxy war against it by hammering its economy with sanctions and stepping up the supply of advanced weapons to Ukraine.

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While boasting that Russia was just getting into its stride, Putin also referred to the possibility of negotiations.

"Everyone should know that, by and large, we haven't started anything yet in earnest," he said. "At the same time, we don't reject peace talks. But those who reject them should know that the further it goes, the harder it will be for them to negotiate with us."

It was the first reference to diplomacy in many weeks after repeated statements from Moscow that negotiations with Kyiv had totally broken down.

Since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian forces have captured large swathes of the country, including completing the seizure of the eastern region of Luhansk last Sunday.

But their progress has been far slower than many analysts predicted, and they were beaten back in initial attempts to take the capital, Kyiv, and second city, Kharkiv.


Prospects for compromise appear remote as Ukraine, emboldened by Western support and the heavy losses it has inflicted on its opponent in terms of both men and equipment, has spoken of driving Russia out of all the territory it has seized.

Ukraine's chief negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, said on Twitter this week that its conditions to resume talks would include: "Ceasefire. Z-troops withdrawal. Returning of kidnapped citizens. Extradition of war criminals. Reparations mechanism. Ukraine's sovereign rights recognition."

Putin said it was obvious that Western sanctions were creating difficulties, "but not at all what the initiators of the economic blitzkrieg against Russia were counting on."

Parliamentary leaders responded to Putin's comments and one, Sergei Mironov of the A Just Russia party, encouraged him to set up a special agency to facilitate the integration of occupied Ukrainian territories into Russia — an idea Putin promised to discuss.

Shelling in Eastern Ukraine

Shelling continued in Ukraine's east, where at least nine civilians were killed and six wounded in 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukraine's presidential office said in its Thursday morning update that cities and villages in seven Ukrainian regions were shelled in the past day. Most of the civilian deaths occurred in Donetsk province, where fighting is ongoing. Seven civilians were killed there, including a child, the presidential office said.

Ten cities and villages came under shelling in Donetsk, and 35 buildings were destroyed, including a school, a vocational college and a hospital, officials said.

Donetsk is part of the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking industrial area where Ukraine's most experienced soldiers are concentrated. Pro-Russian separatists have fought Ukrainian forces and controlled much of the Donbas for eight years. Putin recognized the independence of two self-proclaimed republics there just before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

People take cover during a strike in Kramatorsk, located in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, on Thursday. (Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press)

Putin on Monday claimed victory in Luhansk, the other province constituting the Donbas, after Ukrainian forces withdrew from the last city they controlled there. The governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, denied Wednesday that the Russians had completely captured the province.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, a boarding school was hit, but no one was injured. The Kharkiv region, which lies along the border with Russia, is under daily shelling, and two civilians were killed there over the past 24 hours.

The Ukrainian military said Thursday that Russian forces also carried out shelling and helicopter strikes in the Sumy region in the northeast.

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Even as the fighting continued, Britain's defence ministry said it thinks Russia's military is "reconstituting" its forces. A ministry intelligence assessment issued Thursday said the heavy shelling along the front line in Donetsk is likely intended to secure previous Russian gains.

The British ministry noted a new law under consideration by the Russian parliament to give the government special economic powers amid the war.

The law would allow Russia "to avoid acknowledging it is engaged in a war or its failure to overcome Ukraine's military that was outnumbered and outgunned," the ministry said.

Smoke rises after shelling near the Donbas city of Slovyansk on Thursday. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

As fighting continued in the east, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the Turkish ambassador in Kyiv Thursday over what it described as the theft of Ukrainian grain by a Russian ship.

The Russian ship Zhibek Zholy was allowed to leave Turkey's Black Sea coast after Turkish authorities briefly detained it at Ukraine's request. Ukraine summoned the ambassador to complain about the "unacceptable situation."

Turkey, with its Bosporus Strait, is a key transit route for shipping out of the Black Sea. Ukraine has sought to pressure Ankara to stop Russian shipments of its grain, a vital source of revenue.

With files from The Associated Press

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