Russia said that Ukraine acquiring Patriot missiles from the United States, announced during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington, would not help settle the conflict or prevent Moscow from achieving its goals.
Though the Patriot air defence system is widely regarded as advanced, President Vladimir Putin dismissed it as “quite old,” telling reporters Moscow would find a way to counter it. At the same time, he said Russia wants an end to the war in Ukraine and that this would inevitably involve a diplomatic solution.
“Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” Putin said. “We will strive for an end to this, and the sooner the better, of course.”
These comments drew quick U.S. skepticism. White House spokesman John Kirby said Putin had “shown absolutely zero indication that he’s willing to negotiate” an end to the war.
“Everything [Putin] is doing on the ground and in the air bespeaks a man who wants to continue to visit violence upon the Ukrainian people [and] escalate the war,” Kirby told reporters.
Russia has repeatedly said it is open to negotiations, but Ukraine and its allies suspect a ploy to buy time after a series of Russian battlefield defeats and retreats that have swung the momentum of the 10-month war in favour of Ukraine.
Zelensky returns from his first wartime foreign trip buoyed by the support shown by President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
“We are coming back from Washington with good results. With something that will really help,” Zelensky said on Telegram.
The Biden administration announced another $1.85-billion in military aid for Ukraine, including a Patriot system, as Zelensky began his visit.
But the visit leaves many questions unanswered, including how U.S. military aid could evolve, whether U.S. Congressional support will endure, and how the war will end.
U.S. officials say a single Patriot battery will not change the course of the war.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said deployment of the Patriot system in Ukraine was not conducive to a settlement.
“And this cannot prevent the Russian Federation from achieving its goals during the special military operation,” he said, using Russia’s term for a war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed.
Zelensky told U.S. Congress that American aid to his country was an investment in democracy and the Patriot system was an important step in creating an air shield.
Ukraine has come under repeated Russian aerial strikes targeting its energy infrastructure, leaving millions without power or running water in the dead of winter.
Zelensky made a plea for bipartisan support as Republicans – some of whom have voiced increasing skepticism about sending so much aid to Ukraine – are set to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives from Democrats on Jan. 3.
With a vote scheduled in the House of Representatives on Friday, Congress moved closer to approving an additional $44.9-billion in emergency military and economic assistance, part of wider U.S. government spending bill. That is on top of some $50-billion already sent to Ukraine this year.
The White House said on Thursday that a private Russian military company, the Wagner Group, took delivery last month of infantry rockets and missiles from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine.
Britain said it reached the same conclusion and condemned the move. But Wagner’s head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, dismissed the talk as “gossip and speculation.”
North Korea’s foreign ministry denied the report, calling it “groundless,” the official KCNA news agency reported on Friday.
It is the United States that is “bringing bloodshed and destruction to Ukraine by providing it with various kinds of lethal weapons,” a ministry spokesperson said in a statement carried by the KCNA.
The Russian mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to a request for comment.
On the battlefront, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Facebook on Thursday that fighting in the eastern Donetsk region remained focused on Bakhmut and nearby Avdiivka.
Near Bakhmut, Russian forces shelled about 10 towns, while close to Avdiivka, they pounded the towns of Kostyantyivka and Maryinka as well as Vodyane and Nevelske, the Ukrainian military said. Reuters was not able to confirm the battlefield reports.
Donetsk is one four regions that Moscow claimed to annex after so-called referendums in September that were rejected as bogus and illegal by Kyiv and the West.
Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov said on Thursday the front line in Ukraine was stable, and that Moscow’s forces had concentrated on “completing the liberation of the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic.”