• Defence ministry claims to have downed another drone over Moscow • Kyiv struggles to find new recruits as war drags on
• Amid ‘war crimes’, UN rights chief says world is jaded by conflict in Ukraine

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia would be prepared to talk to Ukraine, the United States and Europe about Kyiv’s future if they wanted to, but that Moscow would defend its national interests.

“In Ukraine, those who are aggressive towards Russia, and in Europe and in the United States — do they want to negotiate? Let them. But we will do it based on our national interests,” Putin told a meeting attended by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov among top defence leadership.

“We will not give up what is ours,” he said, adding that Russia did not intend to fight with Europe.

However, Putin said Ukrainian membership of Nato “is not acceptable for Russia in 10 years, and not in 20”.

Russian troops, Putin said, now had the initiative on the battlefield. “We are not going to abandon the goals of the special military operation,” he said, though he admitted Russia needed better military communication, reconnaissance, targeting and satellite capability.

He said Russia’s defence industry was responding faster than that of the West and said Russia would continue to upgrade its nuclear forces and keep its combat readiness at a high level.

Shoigu said Russian forces laid 7,000 square kilometres of minefields in Ukraine while production of tanks had increased since February 2022 by 5.6 times, unmanned aerial vehicles by 16.8 times and artillery shells by 17.5 times.

Russia controls about 17.5 per cent of the territory that was internationally recognised as part of Ukraine in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Also, the Russian defence ministry blamed Kyiv for a drone attack on Moscow region and said air defence systems had downed it. “The Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle was destroyed by the air defence forces on duty over the territory of the Odintsovo district of the Moscow region,” it added.

Short of new recruits

On the other hand, the Ukrainian army is struggling to find recruits to battle Russian forces.

“Our units are understaffed. We need young, motivated people under 40,” Major Oleksandr Volkov told AFP near the Russian-held frontline city of Bakhmut.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier asked the military command to review the recruitment system.

The system was also plagued by corruption that allowed conscripts to escape the army. Last summer, Zelensky had to dismiss all the regional recruitment officers.

‘Jaded’ by conflict: UN rights chief

Meanwhile, the UN human rights chief has said the world has become “jaded” by the Ukraine conflict where war crimes continue to be committed “primarily by the forces of the Russian Federation”.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that his office had gathered evidence of “gross violations of international human rights law, serious violations of international humanitarian law, and war crimes” by Russian forces.

“The situation in Ukraine seems to have been added to a litany of continuous suffering, and the world’s attention seems jaded by the multiple crises that we face,” he said. He accused Russia of not having taken “adequate measures to protect civilians” nor civilian infrastructure “against the effects of attacks”.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2023

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