Putin calls talks a ‘stalemate’ but limits war aim to eastern Ukraine

It is the alliance of Western countries, Mr Putin insisted, that will soon feel the political backlash of the economic pain caused by the sanctions, as evidenced by rising food and fuel prices. European countries, in particular, have once again shown that they are collectively acting as a “poodle” of the United States, he said.

“They always make miscalculations, not understanding that in difficult conditions the Russian people always unite,” Putin said.

Since appearing before tens of thousands at a Moscow stadium on March 18, Putin’s public appearances have been limited to brief clips showing him meeting with government officials, mostly by liaison video, in which he does not comment on the peace talks or the war. Instead, he lets his Department of Defense and other officials do the talking.

Mr Putin emerged from his cocoon on Monday for an off-camera meeting at his residence outside Moscow with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, the first Western leader to visit him since the February 24 invasion. Mr Nehammer said the session left him convinced that Mr Putin was planning a large and violent military assault on Donbass.

On Tuesday, Mr Putin arrived in the Amur region in Russia’s Far East and was shown in a video released by the Kremlin chatting informally with workers at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a sprawling facility which has been plagued by construction delays and remains unfinished.

As a key initial push for the Russian invasion ended in a retreat, Mr Putin insisted on Tuesday – as he did in the early weeks of the war – that the plan for what what he calls “special military operation” had not been changed. And he argued that what he called the West’s economic “blitzkrieg” to humiliate Russia had failed, pointing to Soviet achievements in the space race as proof that Russians could thrive despite sanctions.

Mr Putin said Russia would continue with its lunar program, which includes a lunar lander due to launch this year. And in a nod to Belarus’ status as Russia’s key ally in the war, Mr Putin has promised to send a Belarusian cosmonaut into space as early as next year.

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