Russian President Vladimir Putin took four hours on Dec. 14 to boast about Russia's alleged economic and military achievements.
Among Putin's key messages was that the war would end when Russia achieved its goals, Western assistance to Ukraine would soon end, and Russia would be doing fine on the battlefield. He added that there was no need for a second wave of mobilization.
Before the first wave of mobilization was announced in September 2022, Putin had also said that there was no need for mobilization.
According to the Russian leader, there are currently around 650,000 Russian troops currently stationed in Ukraine.
Putin made the statements at his first major press conference since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which also included call-in questions.
Before the all-out war, such press conferences were held annually, with questions permitted to be asked carefully, passing through multiple censors.
In 2022, Putin decided not to hold such a spectacle in the wake of Russia's defeats in Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts and discontent prompted by the first wave of mobilization.
This year, the Kremlin decided that it was safe to hold such an event, where occasionally, in the past, some unscripted questions have been allowed.
At the Dec. 14 press conference, no one asked Putin about the disappearance of opposition leader Alexei Navalny from his prison cell, about the thousands of Russians who died in the needless invasion, or the upcoming presidential election that will see Putin secure his fifth term in office.
No questions were asked either about Russia's war crimes in Ukraine and illegal annexations of Ukrainian territories.
Those Russians who were allowed to ask their leader a question asked about egg prices, subsidies, and basic necessities, like fixing a school gym or electrifying a village in Siberia.
At the press conference, Putin made sure everyone knew about Russia's alleged victories and successes on the battlefield.
"Along the entire front line, our armed forces are improving their positions," he said.
Putin claimed that Russian forces had destroyed 747 Ukrainian tanks and 2,000 armored vehicles since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.
Russian military statistics has been repeatedly exposed as fake by Western analysts and even by Russian war correspondents loyal to the Kremlin.
Putin also mentioned a foothold that Ukrainian troops have acquired in the village of Krynky on the left bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast.
"The enemy announced a counteroffensive but it didn't succeed anywhere," he said. "The last attempt was to break into the left bank of the Dnipro River and move towards Crimea."
Putin said that Russian troops withdrew "for several meters" near Krynky to ensure their safety.
He claimed that the Ukrainian foothold on the left bank was not an advantage for Ukraine.
"I don't even know why they're doing this," he said. "They are pushing people to their own destruction... The fact that they are meaninglessly spending their personnel is beneficial for us."
Putin also claimed he had told Russia's General Staff not to push Ukrainian troops out of the foothold too quickly.
No peace deal
Commenting on the possibility of a peace deal with Ukraine, Putin said that "there will be peace when we have achieved our goals."
He added that Russia's war aims remained the same - propaganda narratives that the Kremlin calls "denazification" and "demilitarization," as well as Ukraine's neutral status.
"As far as demilitarization is concerned, if they don't want to negotiate, we'll have to take other measures, including military ones," he said.
Putin also hinted that Russia is not planning to give up any of the territories it has occupied and illegally annexed in Ukraine's Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts, as well as Crimea.
"Ukraine's whole southeast has always been pro-Russian because these are historically Russian territories," Putin claimed. "... What does Ukraine have to do with this? Neither Crimea nor the Black Sea's whole northern coast have anything to do (with Ukraine). And Odesa is a Russian city."
Putin said that Russia's budget envisages spending 1 trillion rubles ($11 billion) per year on Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
Amid reports that the U.S. Congress is dragging its feet on a funding bill for Ukraine, Putin claimed that Western support for Kyiv is being eroded.
"Ukraine is not producing anything," he claimed. "It's getting everything for free but this freeloading may be over someday, and it's already approaching an end."
Most of his statements have been debunked on multiple occasions.
Mobilization and death rate
Putin said that a new mobilization of conscripts for the war is "not necessary today," adding that the country currently has 617,000 troops fighting in Ukraine.
Before the first mobilization in 2022, Putin had also claimed that it had not been necessary but eventually carried it out as Russia suffered defeats in Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts.
He reiterated that more than 300,000 conscripts had been mobilized during the first wave of mobilization in 2022. An estimate by Russian independent media outlet Mediazona put the number of mobilized soldiers at 527,000.
Additionally, Putin also claimed that the Defense Ministry had already hired 486,000 contract soldiers for the war against Ukraine since early 2023, and the number was sufficient for Russia's war effort. The figure could not be independently verified.
The discrepancy in numbers of those mobilized and those who voluntarily joined the Russian army, at least 780,000, and number of those still present on the battlefield may suggest a high death rate among Russian troops.
Russia has lost 342,800 troops in Ukraine since the beginning of its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces reported on Dec. 14.
Analysts say Putin is unlikely to launch a second wave of mobilization before the 2024 presidential election in March to avoid antagonizing the electorate. However, it is possible after the election, they argue.
Commenting on relations with the U.S., Putin said that he would be open to returning Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and other U.S. citizens to their homeland.
"We are not refusing to return them," he said. "We want to reach an agreement, and such an agreement must be mutually acceptable for both parties. There are contacts (between Russia and the U.S.), and the dialogue is difficult... I hope we'll find a solution but the Americans must hear us."
The Kremlin has effectively held Gershkovich as a hostage in an effort to extort concessions from the U.S.
Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg in March while working on a story about the Wagner mercenary group recruiting locals, as well as Russian citizens' views on the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Russia accused him of espionage, which both the U.S. government and the Wall Street Journal vehemently deny. Espionage in Russia carries a maximum prison term of up to 20 years.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Dec. 5 that Russia had rejected a substantial deal aimed at freeing Gershkovich and another imprisoned U.S. citizen, Paul Whelan.
Russia has also jailed Alsu Kurmasheva, an RFE/RL journalist with dual Russian and U.S. citizenship, on charges of failing to identify as a foreign agent.
Speaking about the economy, Putin boasted about Russia's alleged economic successes and financial stability despite the Western sanctions.
He said that Russia's gross domestic product was expected to rise 3.5% in 2023, while manufacturing would increase 7.5%, and investment in fixed capital would be up 10%.
Unemployment will be at a record low of 2.9%, he claimed.
Putin admitted, however, that inflation would rise to 7.5% this year.
The figures could not be independently verified.