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MOSCOW, Nov 22 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin told leaders of the Group of Twenty (G20) on Wednesday that it was necessary to think about how to stop “the tragedy” of the war in Ukraine, some of his speeches more appeasing. comments to date on the conflict.
Putin’s decision to send troops to Ukraine in February 2022 triggered the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War II and the most serious confrontation between Russia and the West since the depths of the Cold War.
Addressing G20 leaders for the first time since the start of the war, the Kremlin chief said some leaders had said in their speeches that they were shocked by Russia’s current “aggression” in Ukraine.
“Yes, of course, military actions are always a tragedy,” Putin said at the virtual G20 meeting convened by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“And of course we should think about how to stop this tragedy,” Putin said. “By the way, Russia has never refused to engage in peace talks with Ukraine.”
The comment, while clearly intended for international consumption, is one of Putin’s most measured on the war in months and stands in contrast to his sometimes lengthy diatribes about America’s failures and arrogance.
Fighting in Ukraine since February 2022 has killed or injured hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions more, and devastated parts of the country’s south and east.
Putin used the word “war” to describe the conflict instead of the Kremlin’s current term of “special military operation.”
“I understand that this war and the death of people can only shock,” Putin said, before laying out the Russian case that Ukraine had persecuted people in eastern Ukraine.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president was overthrown in Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution and Russia annexed Crimea, with Russian-backed separatist forces fighting Ukraine’s armed forces.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, between 2014 and the end of 2021, some 14,000 people were killed there, including 3,106 civilians.
“And the extermination of the civilian population in Palestine, in the Gaza Strip today, is not shocking?” Putin asked.
He also said it was surely shocking that doctors in Gaza had to perform operations on children without anesthesia.
The West and Ukraine have repeatedly vowed to defeat Russia in the war and expel Russian forces, although the failure of a Ukrainian counteroffensive to make real progress this year has raised concerns in the West about the strategy.
Along with Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, Russia controls about 17.5% of Ukrainian territory, according to estimates by the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School. Putin says that territory is now part of Russia.
While US President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have pledged support for Ukraine, there is a growing divide over aid to Ukraine in the US Congress ahead of the US presidential election in November 2024.
Some U.S. lawmakers are prioritizing aid to Israel even as U.S. defense officials emphasize that Washington can support both allies simultaneously.
Ukraine has vowed to fight until the last Russian soldier has left its territory, although some within Ukraine have called for a different strategy.
Putin skipped previous G20 summits in New Delhi and Nusa Dua, Indonesia, sending Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov instead.
The Russian leader addressed the 2021 and 2020 summits from Moscow. The last time he personally attended a G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, was in 2019.
Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson
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