KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin visited headquarters of the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine early Tuesday, his second trip to the Russian-held territories there since March.
A video released by the Kremlin and broadcast by Russian state television showed Putin visiting the command post for Russian forces in the southern Kherson region. It showed Putin arriving by helicopter to receive reports from the top military brass about the combat situation.
The Russian leader then moved by helicopter to the headquarters of the Russian National Guard of the eastern Luhansk region to hear report from commanders.
In both locations, Putin congratulated the military on the Orthodox Easter that 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 footage of Putin’s visits to the two regions that was released by the Kremlin. The trip marked a second visit by the Russian leader to the areas that Russia occupied in Ukraine in as many months.
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.
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 8 1/2 months has been the stage for the war’s longest and bloodiest fight.
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.”