Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused the West of decades of aggression towards Moscow and warned that if it wanted to attempt to beat Russia on the battlefield it was welcome to try, but this would bring tragedy for Ukraine.
His remarks came as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov prepared for a closed-door foreign minister’s meeting at a G20 gathering in Indonesia on Friday which will be the first time Putin’s top diplomat comes face-to-face with the most vocal opponents of the invasion of Ukraine in February.
In Ukraine, the regional governor of the northeastern city of Kharkiv said late on Thursday that three people had been killed and another five wounded after Russian forces shelled the city.
Russian forces also shelled other potential conquests in eastern Ukraine ahead of an expected new offensive.
“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 towards this,” Putin said in televised remarks to parliamentary leaders.
The West had failed in its attempt to contain Russia, and its sanctions on Moscow had caused difficulties but “not on the scale intended,” Putin added. Russia did not reject peace talks, but the further the conflict went, the harder it would be to reach agreement, he said.
Earlier, Kyiv lost one of its main international supporters after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would step down. Ukraine said it expected Britain’s support to continue and thanked Johnson for defending Ukraine’s interests, while Moscow did not conceal its delight at the political demise of a leader whom it has long criticised for arming Kyiv so energetically.
In a phone call, Johnson told Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “You’re a hero, everybody loves you,” a spokesman for Johnson said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the British Prime Minister as a “true friend of Ukraine” for being among the first world leaders to unequivocally condemn the invasion and also “to help Ukraine defend itself and ultimately win this war in the future.”
Johnson’s resignation comes at a time of domestic turmoil in some other European countries that support Kyiv and doubts about their staying power for what has become a protracted conflict.
The day began with Ukraine’s defiant flag-raising ceremony on its recaptured Snake Island in the Black Sea, located about 140 km (90 miles) south of the Ukrainian port of Odesa.
Moscow was quick to respond, with its warplanes striking the strategic island shortly afterwards and destroying part of the Ukrainian detachment there, it said.
Russia abandoned the island at the end of June in what it said was a gesture of goodwill – a victory for Ukraine that Kyiv hoped could loosen Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports.
Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, suggested the raising of the blue and yellow national flag there was a moment that would be repeated across Ukraine.
Russian forces in eastern Ukraine meanwhile kept up pressure on Ukrainian troops trying to hold the line along the northern borders of the Donetsk region, in preparation for an anticipated wider offensive against it.
After taking the city of Lysychansk on Sunday and effectively cementing their total control of Ukraine’s Luhansk region, Moscow has made clear it is planning to capture parts of the neighbouring Donetsk region which it has not yet seized. Kyiv still controls some large cities.
The mayor of the Donetsk city of Kramatorsk said Russian forces had fired missiles at the city centre in an air strike on Thursday and that at least one person was killed and six wounded.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, said the missile had damaged six buildings including a hotel and an apartment bloc in the large industrial hub.
Reuters could not independently verify those assertions.
In Kramatorsk, mechanic-turned-soldier Artchk helped shore up defences against imminent Russian attack while, nearby, farmer Vasyl Avramenko lamented the loss of crops supplanted by mines.
“Of course we’re already prepared. We’re ready,” Artchk, identifying himself by his nom-de-guerre, told Reuters.
“It’s their (Russians’) fantasy to occupy these cities, but they don’t expect the level of resistance. It’s not just the Ukrainian government, it’s the people who refuse to accept them.”
Russia denies targeting civilians in what it calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise Ukraine, root out dangerous nationalists and protect Russian speakers.
Ukraine and its allies say Russia launched an imperial-style land grab with February’s invasion, starting the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two which has killed thousands, displaced millions and flattened cities.