KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday visited command posts of the Kremlin’s forces fighting in Ukraine in an apparent effort to rally his troops as the war approaches its 14th month and Kyiv readies a possible counteroffensive with Western-supplied weapons.
A video released by the Kremlin and broadcast by Russian state television showed Putin arriving by helicopter at the command post for Russian forces in the southern Kherson region and afterward flying to the headquarters of the Russian National Guard of the eastern Luhansk region
Dressed in a dark suit, and in an apparent demonstration of authority, Putin appeared to chair the meetings with his military top brass. It was his second trip in two months to the Russian-occupied territories in the neighboring country.
The locations of the military headquarters in the Kherson and Luhansk regions weren’t disclosed, so it wasn’t possible to assess how close they are to the front line.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has turned into a stalemate amid heavy fighting in the country’s east, particularly around the town of Bakhmut, which for 8½ months has been the stage for the war’s longest and bloodiest fight.
In both locations, Putin congratulated the military on Orthodox Easter, which was celebrated Sunday and presented them with icons.
Russia annexed the Kherson and Luhansk regions along with the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions in September in a move that was rejected by much of the world as illegal.
It was impossible to independently verify the authenticity of the video footage.
Last month, Putin visited the Russian-held Sea of Azov port city of Mariupol, which was captured by Russian troops in May after two months of fierce fighting.
Putin’s trips to the military headquarters come as Ukraine is preparing for a new counteroffensive to reclaim the occupied territories.
Ukrainian officials have said they’re buying time by depleting Russian forces in the battle while Kyiv prepares a counteroffensive. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has argued that if Russia wins the Bakhmut battle, it could allow Putin to begin building international support for a deal that would require Ukraine to make unacceptable compromises to end the war.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told The Associated Press in an interview in Kyiv that Ukraine’s allies are helping the government to achieve the level of technical equipment necessary to launch the attack, delivering heavy armored vehicles and ammunition.
He expressed confidence that Ukraine will be able to return all its occupied territories.
“We will defeat Russia,” he said. “If you have a strong inner spirit, you will definitely win. And we always had it strong. This is something that always annoyed the Russians.”