Moscow has said that Ukraine acquiring Patriot missiles from the United States, announced during President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington, will not help settle the conflict or prevent Russia from achieving its goals.
Though the Patriot air defence system is widely regarded as advanced, President Vladimir Putin dismissed it as “quite old”, telling reporters on Thursday Russia would find a way to counter it. At the same time, he said Russia wants an end to the war in Ukraine and that this would inevitably involve a diplomatic solution.
“Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” Putin told reporters. “We will strive for an end to this, and the sooner the better, of course.”
These comments drew quick US scepticism. White House spokesman John Kirby said Putin had “shown absolutely zero indication that he’s willing to negotiate” an end to the war that began with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
“Quite the contrary,” Kirby told reporters during an online briefing. “Everything he [Putin] is doing on the ground and in the air bespeaks a man who wants to continue to visit violence upon the Ukrainian people [and] escalate the war.”
Russia has persistently said it is open to negotiations, but Ukraine and its allies suspect a ploy to buy time after a series of Russian battlefield defeats and retreats that have swung the momentum of the 10-month war in favour of Kyiv.
Zelenskyy returned to Ukraine buoyed by the support shown by President Joe Biden on his trip to Washington on Wednesday, his first known foreign trip since Russia invaded its neighbour.
“We are coming back from Washington with good results. With something that will really help,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.
Al Jazeera’s Salam Khoder, reporting from Moscow, said Russia has said “clearly” that all aid sent to Ukraine by the US – “Patriot systems or others” – would be legitimate targets.
“Also, the personnel that might be deployed with such systems to train or operate those systems would also be a target for the Russian army,” Khoder said.
Khoder cited Valery Gerasimov, the Russian army’s chief of staff, as warning that the US is “actively is getting involved in this conflict through sending and supplying more weapons to Ukraine”.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that there had been no signs of readiness for peace talks during Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington, proving that the US was fighting a proxy war with Russia “to the last Ukrainian”.
“This is not conducive to a speedy settlement, quite the contrary,” Peskov said of the Patriot system announcement. “And this cannot prevent the Russian Federation from achieving its goals during the special military operation”, using Russia’s term for a war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed.
Zelenskyy told Congress on Wednesday that US aid to his country was an investment in democracy as he invoked battles against the Nazis in World War II to press for more assistance against Russia’s invasion.
Congress moved closer on Thursday to approving an additional $44.9bn in emergency military and economic assistance, part of wider US government spending bill. That would be on top of some $50bn already sent to Ukraine this year.
The Biden administration announced another $1.85bn in military aid for Ukraine, including the Patriot system, on Wednesday as Zelenskyy began his visit.
Journalist and author Owen Matthews said the main task of the Ukrainian presidency is to ensure that the continuing Russian invasion is kept “front and centre of the American agenda”.
“Putin is banking on the US and the West losing interest in Ukraine due to fatigue and growing political opposition. The best strategy the Russians can pursue is to hope that Ukraine’s Western allies will eventually give up,” Matthews, who focuses on Russian affairs, told Al Jazeera.
“It’s vital for Zelenskyy to keep that support and he triumphed,” he added.
Battle for Bakhmut
Meanwhile, Gerasimov said the front line in Ukraine was stable, and that Moscow’s forces were focused on wresting control of the eastern Donetsk region where the war-battered city of Bakhmut has become an epicentre of fighting.
He said Russian troops are “focused on completing the liberation” of Donetsk, one of four regions Moscow claims to have annexed – despite never fully controlling it.
Gerasimov also said that Russia had used hypersonic missiles for the first time in Ukraine including Kinzhal missiles – part of an arsenal of weapons Putin has described as “invincible.”
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu visited army units fighting in Ukraine, state-owned news agency RIA reported on Thursday, citing the ministry. It did not say where.