Russian President Vladimir Putin charged Wednesday that Western intelligence agencies have helped Ukraine carry out acts of sabotage, as he urged his officials to mount a stronger response.
Putin spoke during a call with members of his Security Council that focused on efforts to shore up control of the four Ukrainian provinces that Russia claimed as part of its territory in September — a move that was rejected by most of the world as an illegal annexation.
“There are reasons to believe that the capabilities of third countries, Western special services, have been involved in preparation of acts of sabotage and terror attacks,” Putin said, without elaboration and without providing any evidence.
He noted that the four provinces have faced Ukrainian shelling and acts of sabotage aimed at scaring the local population, adding that the authorities must act “harshly and effectively to ensure control over the situation.”
Several Moscow-appointed officials in the newly incorporated provinces have been killed and wounded in a slew of bombings and other attacks.
Putin urged officials to strengthen efforts to fully integrate the four regions into Russia and protect local residents from Ukrainian attacks.
“They must see and feel that all our great country stands behind them and we will do everything to protect them,” Putin said in televised remarks at the meeting.
When Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, he charged that Russia’s “special military operation” was intended to “demilitarize” Ukraine, block its potential accession to NATO and protect the country’s Russian speakers – the rhetoric Ukraine and its allies have described as a cover for an unprovoked act of aggression.
After failing to capture Kyiv in the initial weeks of the fighting, Russia has focused its military efforts on gaining control of Ukraine’s industrial heartland of the Donbas that includes the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
The Russian military captured the province of Kherson and part of the province of Zaporizhzhia in the south early during the conflict but withdrew from the city of Kherson and nearby areas on the western bank of the Dnieper River in November under the brunt of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Speaking during a separate Kremlin meeting where he received credentials from foreign ambassadors, including the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Lynne M. Tracy, Putin charged that Washington’s support for mass protests in Kyiv that ousted Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president in 2014 lay at the root of the current conflict.
“The relations between Russia and the United States, which directly impact global stability and security, are in a deep crisis,” he said. “It’s rooted in principally different approaches to shaping the modern world order.”