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Foreboding as Vladimir Putin signals ‘fate of Russia’ depends on outcome of war

President Vladimir Putin has given a strong signal the war in Ukraine could continue long into 2023, with a new year warning that the “fate of Russia” depends on victory.

Leaders of both warring countries gave addresses to mark the new year— and both vowed to win the war.

It came as NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the West should be prepared to support Ukraine for the long haul as Russia showed no signs of relenting.

Mr Putin’s new year words were grim and defiant, contrasting with a hopeful message of gratitude and unity from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Minutes after Mr Zelensky rallied his nation, in the first hours of 2023, Moscow saw in the new year by attacking civilian targets across Ukraine.

Ukrainians cheered from their balconies as their air defences blasted Russia’s missiles and drones out of the sky.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his remarks on the new year in Moscow. Photo: Kremlin Press Handout (Getty)

Earlier, Mr Putin spoke gravely while flanked by troops in a break from the tradition of speaking by the Kremlin’s walls.

He said 2022 had been a year of “difficult necessary decisions” and “crucial steps” towards Russia’s “full sovereignty”.

“It was a year that cleared up many things. It clearly separated courage and heroism from betrayal and cowardice,” he said.

Signaling no quick end to the war, Mr Putin said the defence of the fatherland was the sacred duty of Russians.

“The main thing is the fate of Russia,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Zelensky delivered his own address in near darkness, in front of a fluttering Ukrainian flag. He described the year past as a national awakening.

“We were told: you have no other option but to surrender. We say: we have no other option than to win,” he said.

“This year has struck our hearts. We’ve cried out all the tears. We’ve shouted all the prayers,” Mr Zelensky said.

“We fight and will continue to fight. For the sake of the key word: ‘victory’.”

New Year attack

As the clock struck new year in Ukraine, Russia “coldly and cowardly” attacked in the first hours of 2023.

Ukraine’s Air Force command said it destroyed 45 Iranian-made Shahed drones, 32 on Sunday after midnight (local time) and 13 late on Saturday.

That was on top of 31 missile attacks and 12 air strikes across the country in the past 24 hours.

As sirens blared in Kyiv, some people shouted from their balconies, “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!”

Fragments from the late-night attack caused minimal damage in the capital’s centre, and preliminarily reports indicated there were no wounded or casualties, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on social media.

Attacks earlier on Saturday had hit residential buildings and a hotel in the capital, killing at least one person and injuring more than 20.

US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said on Twitter: “Russia coldly and cowardly attacked Ukraine in the early hours of the new year. But Putin still does not seem to understand that Ukrainians are made of iron.”

At the front line in Urkaine’s eastern Donetsk Province, troops toasted the new year.

Soldier Pavlo Pryzhehodskiy, 27, played a song on guitar he had written at the front after 12 of his comrades were killed in a single night.

“It is sad that instead of meeting friends, celebrating and giving gifts to one another people were forced to seek shelter, some were killed,” he told Reuters.

“It is a huge tragedy. It is a huge tragedy that cannot ever be forgiven. That is why the new year is sad.”

In a nearby frontline trench, soldier Oleh Zahrodskiy, 49, said he had signed up as a volunteer after his son was called up to fight as a reservist.

His son was in a hospital in the southern city of Dnipro, fighting for his life with a brain injury, while his father manned the front.

“It is very tough now,” he said, holding back tears.

Andrii Nebytov, chief of Kyiv’s police, posted a photo on his Telegram messaging app, showing what was described as a piece of drone used in an attack on the capital, with a hand-written sign on it in Russian saying “Happy New Year”.

“This wreckage is not at the front, where fierce battles are taking place, this is here, on a sports grounds, where children play,” Mr Nebytov said.

Russia has flattened Ukrainian cities and killed thousands of civilians since Putin ordered his invasion in February, claiming Ukraine was an artificial state whose pro-Western outlook threatened Russia’s security.

Moscow has since claimed to have annexed around one-fifth of Ukraine.

Ukraine has fought back with Western military support, driving Russian forces from more than half the territory they seized. In recent weeks, the front lines have been largely static, with thousands of soldiers dying in intense trench warfare as Moscow defends its grip on captured territory.

Since October, Russia has launched mass missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, casting cities into darkness and cold as winter sets in.

Moscow says the strikes aim to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight, while Kyiv says they have no military purpose and are intended to hurt civilians, a war crime.

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