Russian President Vladimir Putin defended Russia’s assault on Ukraine on Tuesday, the first time he has addressed the conflict since Moscow withdrew its forces from northern Ukraine after they were stopped at the gates of Kyiv. Putin’s speech continued the shift of Russian goals to focus on the Oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas. He also denied the charges of mass killings and executions of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha saying it is “the same fake as it was with chemical weapons in Syria.” Putin made the denial despite many photos, videos, and on-the-ground reports corroborating the hundreds of deaths claimed by the Ukrainian government and human rights groups. Satellite photos dated March 19th – when the Russians were pulling out of Bucha – show the bodies of many civilians lying in the streets. Over 300 in Bucha alone are thought to have been killed in the alleged massacre. More bodies are being discovered as time goes on and as more mass graves are unearthed.
Russian state television, for this segment, showed Putin and Belarusian President Lukashenko visiting the Vostochny space base in Russia’s Far East to mark the anniversary of the Soviet success in launching the first manned space flight. When asked by space agency workers if the “Special Operation” in Ukraine would achieve its goals, Putin said: “Absolutely. I don’t have any doubt at all…. Its goals are absolutely clear and noble… We didn’t have a choice. It was the right decision.” Putin said Russia’s main aims were to protect the Russian-speaking people of Donbas in eastern Ukraine and to end Ukraine’s position as a center of nationalistic anti-Russian feeling.
In Tuesday’s remarks, he seemed to draw an analogy between Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight 61 years ago and Russia’s resistance to Western economic sanctions. He said: “The sanctions were total, the isolation was complete but the Soviet Union was still first in space,” while recalling his own amazement as a schoolboy learning of the feat. “We don’t intend to be isolated,” Putin said. “It is impossible to severely isolate anyone in the modern world – especially such a vast country as Russia.”