ST. PETERSBURG, Russia ( Associated Press) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he intended to end a “war” in Ukraine that has been waged in the country’s east for years.
In a meeting with war veterans, Putin said Moscow had long tried to broker an end to the conflict in Ukraine’s industrial heartland of Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces since 2014 .
“Since 2014, a large-scale combat operation with heavy weapons, artillery, tanks and aviation has been going on in Donbass,” Putin said. “What we’re doing today as part of the special military operation is trying to stop this war. That’s the meaning of our operation: to protect the people who live in those areas.”
Putin reiterated that Russia had tried to negotiate a peaceful settlement before sending in its troops, but “we were tricked and betrayed.”
He described eastern Ukraine as Russia’s “historic territory”, adding that Moscow accepted its loss following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but was forced to take steps to protect the Russian-speaking population.
Putin has stated that his decision to invade Ukraine on 24 February was due to the need to “demilitarize” and “anazize” Ukraine to protect the Russian-speaking population and prevent Ukraine from becoming a threat to Russia. Ukraine and its Western allies say these claims are intended to cover up unprovoked acts of aggression.
Putin visited Saint Petersburg on January 18, 1943, the 80th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazi siege of the city by the Red Army.
The siege of the city, then called Leningrad, lasted nearly 900 days and ended in January 1944 in one of the bloodiest episodes of World War II. About one million people died during the siege, most of them from starvation.
Putin laid a wreath on Wednesday at the Piskaryov cemetery where 420,000 civilian victims and 70,000 Soviet soldiers are buried. He placed another offering in an area where his brother, who had died as a child during the siege, was buried in a common grave.