By Lidia Kelly
(Reuters) – The leaders of Ukraine and Russia both vowed to push for victory in New Year speeches, but while Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke of gratitude and pain, Vladimir Putin urged duty to Russia, casting the war as a near-existential fight.
Zelenskiy, recalling some of the most dramatic moments and victories of the war, filled his emotional 17-minute video message with footage of Russia’s attacks on the country and words of pride for Ukrainians withstanding attacks, darkness and cold.
“We were told: you have no other option but to surrender. We say: we have no other option than to win,” said Zelenskiy, dressed in his trademark khaki outfit and standing in darkness with the Ukrainian flag fluttering behind.
“We fight as one team – the whole country, all our regions. I admire you all.”
A few minutes after Zelenskiy’s speech – released just before midnight Kyiv time on New Year’s Eve – numerous blasts were heard in the capital and around the country. The attacks followed a barrage of more than 20 cruise missiles fired across Ukraine on Saturday – and many bombardments earlier.
As the war drags into its 11th month, Moscow was unprepared for the staunch resistance and billions of dollars in Western weapons that have turned the tide in Ukraine’s favour.
Russian troops have been forced out of more than half the territory they took in the first weeks of what Putin calls a “special military operation” to “denazify” and demilitarise Ukraine. Kyiv and Western allies say Putin’s invasion was a land grab.
‘FATE OF RUSSIA’
Putin, breaking with tradition by delivering the New Year message flanked by troops rather than the Kremlin’s walls, talked sternly and combatively about 2022 as the year that “clearly separated courage and heroism from betrayal and cowardice.”
While trying to rally support among Russians amid embarrassing battlefield setbacks and growing internal criticism of his military strategy, Putin thanked Russian troops, but he also demanded more from them.
“The main thing is the fate of Russia,” Putin, dressed in a dark suit and tie, said. “Defence of the fatherland is our sacred duty to our ancestors and descendants. Moral, historical righteousness is on our side.”
Russia had planned a swift operation, but with the war dragging on it has been forced to put society on more of a war footing: calling up more than 300,000 reservists, retooling an economy hurt by Western sanctions and saying publicly that the conflict may be long.
Reiterating that the West is supposedly intent on “destroying Russia” by using Kyiv, Putin vowed he will never allow that. He signalled once again, that the war, albeit hard, will continue.
“We have always known, and today we are again convinced that the sovereign, independent, secure future of Russia depends only on us, on our strength and will,” he said.
Zelenskiy promised the return of lands Moscow proclaimed it had annexed in September.
“It’s impossible to forget. And it’s impossible to forgive. But it’s possible to win,” he said.
While listing Ukraine’s successes, Zelenskiy referred to the Crimean Bridge, Moscow’s symbol of the annexation of the peninsula that linked it with Russia and that was torn by an explosion in October.
While Putin immediately blamed Kyiv for orchestrating the powerful blast, Ukraine had not previously claimed responsibility for it – or any other attacks inside Russia, since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
“This year has struck our hearts. We’ve cried out all the tears. We’ve shouted all the prayers,” Zelenskiy said.
“We fight and will continue to fight. For the sake of the key word: ‘victory’.”
(Additional reporting by Jake Cordell, Nick Starkov, David Ljunggren and Sergiy Karazy; Writing in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Neil Fullick)