Putin claims Russians eager to fight in Ukraine as North Korea’s Kim arrives for talks

US has warned Pyongyang against providing arms to replenish Moscow’s arsenal

President Vladimir Putin has claimed that thousands of Russians are joining up every week to fight in Ukraine and that western arms will not stop him winning the war, as he prepared for talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un that are expected to focus on a possible arms deal.

“We have long, friendly relations with these neighbours and good prospects for co-operation,” Primorye region governor Oleg Kozhemyako said alongside Russian natural resources minister Alexander Kozlov at the border railway station of Khasan, where they welcomed Mr Kim upon his arrival in an armoured train.

“This high-level visit will lay the groundwork for the most active development of ties and direct communication with our North Korean colleagues,” he added.

The US has warned Pyongyang not to sell weapons to the regime of Mr Putin, who told a conference in the Pacific port of Vladivostok – about 150km from Khasan – that Russians were eager to fight in Ukraine and that western-supplied tanks, missile systems and even F-16 fighter jets would not prevent his country’s victory.


“We carried out a partial mobilisation. We called up 300,000 people. Now, over the past six or seven months, 270,000 people have voluntarily signed a contract to serve in the armed forces and volunteer units,” Mr Putin said.

“Furthermore, the process continues, with 1,000-1,500 people coming every day to sign contracts,” he added. “Our guys, Russian guys, understand what awaits them, that they could give their lives for the motherland, might get seriously injured, but they still do it knowingly and voluntarily. They defend the interests of the motherland.”

The Russian autocrat also claimed that Ukraine had lost 71,500 soldiers in a counteroffensive launched in June that has made slow progress in southeastern areas due to heavy minefields and fortifications prepared by Russia’s occupation force.

“There are no results, of course … but there are losses. big ones,” Mr Putin said, without offering evidence for his claims.

Neither side reveals its casualty numbers from 18 months of all-out war, but US officials estimated last month that up to 120,000 Russian soldiers had died and as many as 180,000 had been injured, while some 70,000 Ukrainian troops had been killed and up to 120,000 wounded.

As Kremlin hopes of a swift victory were smashed and Moscow’s casualties mounted, its state media reframed the war as a de facto battle on Ukrainian territory between an imperilled Russia and an aggressive West.

“The US authorities perceive Russia as an existential enemy,” Mr Putin said, predicting “no fundamental changes towards Russia” no matter who wins next year’s US presidential election.

He said the legal cases against former US president Donald Trump, who has praised Mr Putin and advocated a rapprochement with the Kremlin, showed “all the rottenness of the American political system, which cannot pretend to teach others about democracy”.

“It shows, as they said back in Soviet times, the bestial face of American imperialism,” the former KGB officer added.

Mr Putin said Kyiv must make the first move and offer talks before any peace negotiations could take place, and the Kremlin insists that any deal to end the conflict must cement the “new realities” of Russia’s occupation of almost a fifth of Ukraine’s territory.

Russia’s leader of 23 years also said his country was developing new, advanced weapons and would not be stopped on the battlefield by any western arms given to Ukraine, including US-made fighter jets that Kyiv hopes to put into service early next year.

“They are going to deliver F-16s,” he said. “Will this change anything? I don’t think so. It will just prolong the conflict.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe