Putin says goals in Ukraine have ‘not changed’ and war will continue until Kyiv agrees a deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual phone-in with the public on Thursday, combined with his end-of-year press conference, in which he covered a host of issues including what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Putin said Russia’s goals in the country, which he claimed include its “demilitarization” and “neutral status,” had “not changed.”

“Either reach an agreement or resolve it by force. This is what we will strive for,” he said, according to a Reuters translation.

The “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin” is a closely followed event as it gives Russian citizens a chance to speak directly with the president on a range of issues and sees them invariably airing their grievances as well as heaping praise on the president. The event is a carefully orchestrated and curated affair, with questions heavily vetted and any criticisms focusing on localized issues rather than Russia’s leadership.

The phone-in’s organizers said they received several million questions for the president and the televised event lasted over four hours.

Meanwhile, talks got underway among EU leaders in Brussels, at a summit in which Ukraine is high on the agenda.

All leaders bar Hungary’s Victor Orban — who has retained tacit sympathy for Putin through the war — are set to approve the formal start of talks over Ukraine joining the bloc. However, a decision must be taken unanimously.

Orban told reporters Thursday morning he continued to believe talks should not begin because Ukraine has not met all of the criteria set out by the European Union. Orban is also expected to block the approval of a 50 billion euro ($54 billion) funding package for Ukraine in the EU budget, instead favoring a short-term, smaller package.

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