kyiv, Ukraine (HPD) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that he expects the mobilization of army reservists he ordered to bolster his soldiers in Ukraine to be completed in about two weeks, allowing him to end an unpopular call and chaotic war aimed at countering Ukrainian advances on the battlefield and consolidating its illegal annexation of occupied territories.
Facing internal discontent and military setbacks in a neighboring country armed with increasingly advanced Western weapons, Putin also told reporters he has no regrets about starting the conflict and “did not set out to destroy Ukraine” when he ordered Russian soldiers invade it almost eight months ago.
“What is happening today is unpleasant, to put it mildly,” he said after attending a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. “But all this we would have had a little later, only in worse conditions for us, that’s all. So my actions are correct and timely.”
Russia’s difficulties in achieving its war goals have become apparent in one of the four Ukrainian regions that Putin illegally claimed as Russian territory last month. Anticipating an advance by Ukrainian forces, Moscow-installed authorities in the Kherson region urged residents to flee on Friday.
Even some of Putin’s own supporters have criticized the Kremlin’s handling of the war and mobilization, increasing pressure on the president to do more to turn the tide in Russia’s favor.
In his comments on the mobilization of the army, Putin said that the action he ordered last month had registered 222,000 of the 300,000 reservists that the Russian Defense Ministry had set as an initial target. A total of 33,000 of them have joined military units, and 16,000 are deployed in combat, he said.
Putin ordered the mobilization to bolster fighting along a 1,100-kilometre (684-mile) front line where Ukrainian counter-offensives have dealt blows to Moscow’s military prestige. The mobilization was problematic from the start, as there was confusion over who was eligible for the draft in a country where almost all men under the age of 65 are registered as reservists.
Opposition to the order was so strong that tens of thousands of men fled Russia and others protested in the streets. Critics were skeptical that the draft would end in two weeks. They envisioned only a break to allow enlistment offices to process regular recruits during Russia’s annual fall recruitment for men ages 18-27, which was pushed back from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1.
“Don’t believe Putin about the ‘two weeks.’ The mobilization can only be canceled by his decree. No decree is not cancelled,” Vyacheslav Gimadi, a lawyer for the Anti-Corruption Foundation of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, wrote on Facebook.
When asked about the possibility of an expanded mobilization, the Russian president said that the Defense Ministry had not asked him to authorize it.
“Nothing else is planned,” Putin replied, adding: “In the foreseeable future, I don’t see any need.”
Putin and other officials declared in September that the mobilization would affect some 300,000 people, but their enabling decree did not cite a specific number. Russian media have hinted that it could be as high as 1.2 million.
Putin had also said that only those with combat or service experience would be recruited. He later admitted that military officers had made mistakes, such as enlisting reservists without relevant experience. Men who received minimal training decades ago were recruited en masse.
In addition, reports have emerged that some recruits were sent to the front lines in Ukraine with poor preparation and inadequate equipment. Several mobilized reservists are reported to have been killed in action in that country this week, just days after being drafted.
Putin responded to the criticism on Friday, saying that all activated recruits should receive proper training and that he would task the Russian Security Council “with conducting an inspection of how mobilized citizens are being trained.”
Before launching the invasion on February 24, Putin questioned Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, presenting the country as part of historical Russia. Asked about it on Friday, he repeated his claim that Russia was ready for peace negotiations and again accused the Ukrainian government of abandoning negotiations after Russian soldiers withdrew from kyiv early in the war.
Ukraine rejected any possibility of negotiating with Putin after he illegally annexed the Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Luhansk last month on the basis of “referendums” that kyiv and Western countries consider a farce.
The momentum on the battlefield has passed to Ukraine as its armed forces recapture cities, towns and villages that Russia seized early in the war. After concerned Kherson leaders, backed by the Kremlin, called on civilians to evacuate to ensure their safety and give Russian soldiers more room to manoeuvre, Moscow offered free accommodation.
The Russian government has noted that the transfer of Ukrainians to Russia or to Kremlin-controlled territory is voluntary, but in many cases they are not allowed to travel to Ukrainian-controlled territory, and reports have emerged that some were forcibly deported to “ filtration fields” under harsh conditions.
An Associated Press investigation found that Russian officials deported thousands of Ukrainian children — some of them orphans, others living with foster families or in institutions — to be raised as Russians.
Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.