“As for the annual news conference, yes, there won’t be one before the New Year, but we expect that the president will still find an opportunity to talk to [reporters], as he does regularly, including during his foreign visits,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday, per state media.
That breaks a decadelong tradition of Putin addressing the press, usually for hours at a time, which built on the “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin” format that Kremlin officials launched in 2001. His refusal to continue the practice this year has been perceived internationally in light of the setbacks inflicted on invading Russian forces over the fall months, although Putin insisted this week that the war — or “special military operation” (SMO) as he prefers to call it — is unfolding according to plan.
“The SMO is running its course and everything is stable — there are no questions or problems there now,” Putin said Friday. “As for the settlement process in general — yes, it will probably be complicated and will take some time. But one way or another, the parties to this process will have to accept the realities that are taking shape on the ground.”
The front lines have not changed dramatically in the month since Russian forces retreated from Kherson, the regional capital on the west bank of the Dnieper River — a high-profile loss, given Putin’s legal maneuvers to incorporate Kherson and three other Ukrainian regions into the Russian state.
“But the Ukrainian Armed Forces don’t think about stopping,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Sunday. “When the soil becomes more solid, I am convinced that we will continue our counterattacks, the campaign to liberate our territories.”
In the meantime, the conflict has settled into a pattern of Russian bombardment of Ukrainian energy infrastructure throughout the country while Ukrainian forces attack Russian military supply lines and bases. The most intense fighting on the front lines of late has been around Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk — one of the four regions that Putin hopes to bring into the Russian state.
“The enemy is concentrating its efforts on conducting offensive actions in the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Zaporizhzhia directions,” Ukrainian military officials announced in their latest battlefield update. “In other directions, the enemy is trying to restrain the actions of units of the Defense Forces of Ukraine.”
Ukrainian forces are expected to attempt at some point to recover Zaporizhzhia, a region home to a massive Russian-occupied nuclear power plant. A counteroffensive to retake Zaporizhzhia might cut the Russian lines in half, isolating the Russian forces in Crimea from their positions in Donetsk and Luhansk, which are known collectively as the Donbas.
Russian forces reportedly attempted to make a breakthrough in Donetsk this weekend, but they did not succeed. “Our troops … have returned to their original position,” one Russian social media post claimed, per the War Translated project. “The result speaks of insufficient readiness. But it’s also good that we didn’t cling to the advanced positions abandoned almost without a fight by the enemy, and become targets in the shooting range, for the sake of a red piece on the map.”
Russian forces may continue such attempts, but British intelligence officials doubt that they can succeed.
“Russia’s strategy is currently unlikely to achieve its objectives: it is highly unlikely that the Russian military is currently able to generate an effective striking force capable of retaking these areas,” the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry said Monday. “Russian ground forces are unlikely to make operationally significant advances within the next several months.”
Putin ordered the mobilization of 300,000 conscripts, but the Kremlin chief has tried to assure Russian citizens that further drafts will not be necessary.
“Half of all mobilized recruits can be considered a combat reserve,” he said Friday. “So, there is no reason to talk about an additional mobilization. This is out of [the] question as we speak.”