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Putin says ‘nothing like Gaza happening in Ukraine’ in major news conference

Russian president Vladimir Putin has called the military offensive in Gaza “catastrophic” as he faced Western journalists at a major press conference for the first time since Moscow’s war in Ukraine began.

He said that what was happening in the enclave was a “tragedy” and that “nothing like that is happening in Ukraine”, despite the fact that tens of thousands died in the first year of Russia’s war, according to conservative estimates.

“Look at the catastrophic situation in Gaza and at the special operation [war in Ukraine] and feel the difference,” Mr Putin said on Thursday at his end-of-year news conference, where he answered questions from both local and international journalists, including those from Western media.

He has heavily limited his interaction with the foreign media since the fighting began almost 22 months ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual press conference in Moscow, Russia December 14, 2023. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
Mr Putin last held his annual press conference in 2021, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko via Reuters)

Mr Putin was greeted with applause as he arrived at the venue in central Moscow, where ordinary citizens also got the chance to phone in their questions to the president.

Commenting on Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, he insisted on the need to protect civilians and to provide “massive humanitarian support” to the besieged territory.

After Hamas killed 1,200 people in its 7 October attack on Israel, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says 18,608 Palestinians have died in the enclave.

Mr Putin praised Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his leading role in Gaza efforts, stating that he is “doing everything to change it for the better and create conditions for long-term peace”.

Mr Putin said the Russian government was in “constant contact” with Turkey and that he could travel to Ankara at the beginning of next year.

He repeated the aims of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, namely the “de-Nazification, de-militarisation and a neutral status” of the country.

Russia has repeatedly sought to justify its invasion by accusing the Ukrainian government of being heavily influenced by radical nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, a claim rejected by Kyiv.

“There will be peace when we will achieve our goals,” Mr Putin said.

He ruled out a second military draft in Russia, saying the partial mobilisation in September 2022 of more than 300,000 people had been successful.

“The guys are fighting well, really well,” he said, adding that 14 had won the Hero of Russia, the country’s highest honour.

“I think 244,000 are in the special military operation zone,” he added. “After that, we started a campaign to attract people on a voluntary basis to sign contracts with the armed forces. As of yesterday evening, I was informed we now had come up with 486,000.

“The flow of men ready to defend our homeland with arms in hand is not decreasing. Together with volunteers, there should be around half a million people. There is no need for mobilisation as of today.”

Last year’s news conference was cancelled, with the last event held in 2021 before Russia invaded Ukraine in the following February. His annual state-of-the-nation address was also delayed until February of this year.

Mr Putin, who has held power for nearly 24 years, said last week that he is running for reelection in March.

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