Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Tuesday that he could order his troops to try to seize more land into protect bordering Russian territory — a threat with questionable credibility because the Kremlin lacks full control over areas it has already illegally annexed. In some of his most detailed remarks about the war in months, the Russian leader made a rare acknowledgment of shortages of some vital weapons and ammunition, but claimed Ukraine's recently-launched counteroffensive was failing, with Kyiv's forces suffering "catastrophic" battlefield losses.
Putin said Russia was short of "high-precision ammunition, communications equipment, aircraft, drones, and so on" — despite weapon production having increased over the past year in his country.
He spoke hours before Belarussian autocrat Alexander Lukashenko, one of Putin's few close allies in the region, said the country just north of Ukraine had startedthat Putin announced weeks ago would be deploy to Belarus.
Ukraine quickly denied Putin's claims about its counteroffensive, insisting slow progress was being made along the 600-mile front line that stretches from the country's northern border with Belarus to the Black Sea on its southern coast.
Military analysts and U.S. officials describing the counteroffensive to CBS News have said Ukraine has yet to commit the bulk of its forces to the new push and is likely still probing sections of the long front line to determine weak points for a more concerted attack on Russia's occupying forces.
For weeks, even before the counteroffensive started gaining steam, Russia's own territory — even the Kremlin in Moscow — has faced drone and small-scale ground attacks, some of them claimed by Ukraine-aligned Russian separatist groups. Speaking with a selected group of war bloggers and defense reporters at the Kremlin on Tuesday, Putin acknowledged that his forces could have been better prepared for such attacks, and it was those he said might seek to deter by ordering Russian troops to "create on Ukrainian territory a kind of sanitary zone at such a distance from which it would be impossible to get our territory."
The Russian leader spoke on the heels of Ukrainian claims to have recaptured at least seven small villages in the east of the country in recent days. But the Ukrainian counteroffensive's gains have been limited and both sides have acknowledged a pressing need for more weapons and ammunition.
While Putin claimed his country was ramping up production of the needed hardware, the U.S. government announced its— a drawdown of existing U.S. supplies worth some $325 million, which will include more armored fighting and infantry transport vehicles.
Putin heralded the destruction and capture of some of the American-made Stryker and Bradley fighting vehicles that Ukraine had already taken possession of, and mockingly said European-supplied tanks were "burning well."
While Ukraine is eager for more vehicles, tanks and munitions, CBS News correspondent Ian Lee said Kyiv was also desperately in need of more air defenses, as highlighted by the latest deadly missile and drone salvos.
Russian missiles struck a Ukrainian city for the second night in a row, this time targeting the southern port city of Odesa. Local officials said the only one of four Russian cruise missiles launched from the Black Sea that got through its air defenses struck a business center and warehouse, killing at least three people and leaving 13 others wounded.
Putin made several other notable remarks in his nearly-two-hour discussion with the Russian war bloggers and journalists:
- He reiterated Russia's claim that Ukraine was responsible for and hydro-electric power plant on the Dnieper River, which caused vast flooding on both sides of the front line last week in the country's south, killing at least 17 people. Ukraine says it was Russia that destroyed the dam, which it seized months earlier, "from inside."
- Putin claimed Ukraine had lost 160 tanks and more than 360 other armored vehicles, while Russia lost 54 tanks since the new counteroffensive began. Those claims could not be immediately verified, but a U.S. official familiar with American intelligence said Putin's comments were "not accurate" and cautioned against putting any stock in Russia's public assessments.
- He said Russia's defense industry had ratcheted up production of drones and other weapons but still needed more, and claimed the West was also struggling to produce more weapons and ammunition.
- Putin threatened that Russia could pull out of a from Ukraine through a demilitarized Black Sea maritime corridor.
- He claimed the United States could stop the war by halting weapons shipments to Ukraine, leaving it too weak to carry on the fight, and suggested the West would eventually give up on the fight and accept that Ukraine could "never" win the war.
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