Russian President Vladimir Putin in his year-end speech, an annual tradition, was widely reported to be somewhat muted in intensity this year (given also it was much shorter than usual, at under four minutes), coming the day after the Russian city of Belgorod suffered its single worst day of attack from Ukraine forces since the war began. During the Saturday cross-border drone and missile attack 24 Russians were killed and 108 were injured.
Putin in the address vowed that Russia would "never back down" and that national unity will be maintained at all costs. "We have repeatedly proven that we can solve the most difficult problems and will never back down because there is no force that can separate us," he said according to AFP.
"What united us and unites us is the fate of the Fatherland, a deep understanding of the highest significance of the historical stage through which Russia is passing," Putin said while also hailing Russian citizens' "solidarity, mercy and fortitude."
Without naming Ukraine directly, he further praised Russian troops on the front lines of fighting: "We are proud of you, you are heroes, you feel the support of the entire people," Putin said.
Belgorod was also not mentioned by name, and while many New Year festivities continued as usual across a number of major cities, including in Moscow, many areas canceled their customary fireworks displays this year. The big one held at the Red Square was also canceled, but there were other events in other parts of the capital city.
However, Putin addressed the border problem in great detail during separate statements offered Monday. He said Russia will "intensify" strikes against Ukraine in wake of the deadly strikes on Belgorod city.
"We're going to intensify the strikes. No crime against civilians will rest unpunished, that's for certain," Putin said while touring a military hospital.
"Of course, we can strike public squares and Kyiv, and any other city. I understand. I'm burning with rage myself. But do we need to attack civilians? No, we hit military targets, and we'll continue to do that," he added.
While meeting w/ wounded soldiers at a hospital outside Moscow, Putin indicates that Russia isn't done retaliating for Ukraine's Belgorod attack. He doesn't repeat the "Vampire" missile claim but says firing a multiple launch rocket system at a city center qualifies as terrorism pic.twitter.com/eymEVSHsdx— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) January 1, 2024
He labeled the early Saturday strikes on Belgorod a "terrorist attack" and charged that Ukraine's military had been intentionally targeting "right in the city center, where people were walking, before New Year's Eve." Videos showed that at least one Christmas marketplace had been shelled, where many children had been present. At least two children were reportedly among the deceased.
The day prior to that on Friday, Russia had unleashed a massive missile and drone attack on cities across Ukraine, which killed at least 39. The Kremlin said the operation struck military targets, while Kiev said malls, apartment buildings, and schools were hit.