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Newly confident Putin faces the press and Russian people

MOSCOW: Vladimir Putin on Thursday (Dec 14) holds his first year-end press conference since sending troops into Ukraine, with the Russian president feeling the tide turning in his favour nearly two years into the conflict.

Putin will answer questions from reporters and viewers during the hours-long marathon, a week after he announced he is running in next year’s presidential election, which would keep him in the Kremlin until at least 2030.

The Russian leader will “sum up the results of the year”, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

But the echoes of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine will reverberate in the grand hall in central Moscow where hundreds of journalists passed four police checkpoints to hear Putin speak.

Russia said it had downed nine Ukrainian drones heading for Moscow just hours before Putin’s event was set to kick off.

Ukraine said it had shot down 41 of the 42 Iranian-designed drones launched by Russian forces at the southern city of Odesa, in a barrage that wounded 11 people.

Putin’s choreographed call-in show was cancelled last year as Moscow reeled from the shock of early failures of its military operation, where Ukraine managed to repel the Kremlin’s assault in Kyiv and then regain territory in the east and south.

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Ukraine’s strong resistance and support from its allies had surprised observers around the world and in Moscow, where many had expected to conquer Kyiv in a few days.

But almost two years into his offensive, Putin may be sensing that his fortunes are reviving.

Ukraine’s latest counteroffensive failed to pierce heavily entrenched Russian lines, and support from its allies is fraying.

1.5 MILLION QUESTIONS

During a visit to Washington this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy failed to overcome Republican opposition in Congress to approving a new US$60 billion aid package.

And the Russian economy has withstood Western sanctions that aimed to isolate Russia – though the economy’s long-term resilience remains uncertain.

Moscow is still able to sustain its war effort through oil sales, which Putin discussed during a trip this month to the UAE and Saudi Arabia where he was received with full honours.

In any case, Putin’s election campaign, which he launched last week, is unlikely to be forced to address the real economic and human costs of the offensive.

During Thursday’s event, he is expected to address domestic issues and international politics, and to repeat his customary rhetoric distorting Ukraine’s past.

Russian callers have already sent over 1.5 million requests, and Russian state-run news agencies reported that most call-in questions relate to the conflict in Ukraine, housing and public services.

Putin will also lay out his ambitions for the Mar 17 election that will allow him to extend his decades-long grip on power into the 2030s.

There is little doubt surrounding the result, as most of the opposition is in exile or behind bars.

Putin’s most high-profile rival, Alexei Navalny, is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence on political charges.

And the Kremlin has intensified its crackdown on dissent since the assault on Ukraine.

Thousands of people have been detained and imprisoned for protests, and many thousands more have fled the country in fear of being called up to fight.

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