Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday used the word “war” to refer to the conflict in Ukraine, the first known time he has publicly deviated from his carefully crafted description of Moscow’s invasion as a “special military operation” 10 months after it began.
“Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” Putin told reporters in Moscow, after attending a State Council meeting on youth policy. “We have been and will continue to strive for this.”
Putin’s critics say that using the word “war” to describe the Ukraine conflict has effectively been illegal in Russia since March, when the Russian leader signed a censorship law that makes it a crime to disseminate “fake” information about the invasion, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for anyone convicted.
So Putin’s use of the word did not go unnoticed.
Nikita Yuferev, a municipal lawmaker from St. Petersburg who fled Russia due to his antiwar stance, on Thursday said he had asked Russian authorities to prosecute Putin for “spreading fake information about the army.”
“There was no decree to end the special military operation, no war was declared,” Yuferev wrote on Twitter. “Several thousand people have already been condemned for such words about the war.”
A US official told CNN their initial assessment was that Putin’s remark was not intentional and likely a slip of the tongue. However, officials will be watching closely to see what figures inside the Kremlin say about it in the coming days.
Thousands have been killed, entire villages wiped out and billions of dollars of infrastructure destroyed since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.
That day, Putin used the term “special military operation” to describe his attack. He has framed the ongoing brutality as a campaign of “denazification” – a description dismissed by historians and political observers – and has increasingly described Russia’s unprovoked invasion as a patriotic and almost existential cause.
Putin’s comments Thursday followed a historic trip by Volodymyr Zelensky to Washington, where the Ukrainian president gave an impassioned speech to Congress appealing for greater US support for the war effort.
During his visit, US President Joe Biden unveiled a $1.8 billion package of assistance for Ukraine that includes a Patriot missile defense system – a longstanding request of Kyiv’s to counter Russian air attacks.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow Thursday, Putin dismissed the Patriot systems as “old” and said Russia will “always find the antidote.”
“In regards to Patriots, this is quite an old system and it doesn’t work as well as our S-300 (missile system),” Putin said.
“Those who oppose us think this is a defensive weapon, that’s what they say. But that’s in their own mind and we’ll always find the antidote.
“So those doing it are just wasting their time, it’s just delaying the conflict.”
In his address to Congress, Zelensky briefly discussed a 10-point peace formula and summit that he told Biden about during an earlier meeting at the White House. The Ukrainian leader claimed Biden supported the peace initiatives.
Asked Thursday by a reporter whether there was a real chance of diplomacy in Ukraine, Putin said that negotiation always preceded the end of conflict.
“All conflicts, armed conflicts too, end one way or another with some kind of negotiations,” Putin said as he accused Zelensky of refusing to negotiate.
“We never refused, it was the Ukrainian leadership that refused itself to conduct negotiations … sooner or later any party to the conflict will sit down and negotiate and the sooner those opposing us realize it, the better,” he said.
“We have never given up on it.”
Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday declared the Kremlin would make a substantial investment in many areas of the military. The initiatives include increasing the size of the armed forces, accelerating weapons programs and deploying a new generation of hypersonic missiles to prepare Russia for what Putin called “inevitable clashes” with its adversaries.