MOSCOW-Russian President Vladimir Putin told the 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 most placatory remarks to date about the conflict.
Putin’s decision to send troops into Ukraine in February 2022 triggered Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War Two and the gravest 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 the ongoing “aggression” of Russia in Ukraine.
“Yes, of course, military actions are always a tragedy,” Putin told the virtual G20 meeting called 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 peace talks with Ukraine.”
The remark, although clearly intended for international consumption, is one of Putin’s most dovish on the war for months and contrasts with his sometimes long diatribes about the failings and arrogance of the United States.
Fighting in Ukraine since February 2022 has killed or wounded hundreds of thousands, displaced millions more and devastated swathes of the country’s south and east.
Putin used the word “war” to describe the conflict instead of the current Kremlin term of “special military operation”.
“I understand that this war, and the death of people, cannot but shock,” Putin said, before setting 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 toppled in Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution and Russia annexed Crimea, with Russian-backed separatist forces fighting Ukraine’s armed forces.
About 14,000 people were killed there between 2014 and the end of 2021, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 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 were having to perform operations on children without anesthesia.
The West and Ukraine have repeatedly vowed to defeat Russia in the war and to eject Russian forces, though the failure of a Ukrainian counteroffensive to achieve any real gains this year has raised concerns in the West over 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’s Kennedy School. Putin says that territory is now part of Russia.
While U.S. President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have promised to support Ukraine, there is increasing division over aid for Ukraine in the U.S. Congress ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November 2024.
Some American lawmakers are prioritising aid to Israel even as U.S. defence officials stress that Washington can support both allies simultaneously.
Ukraine has vowed to fight until the last Russian soldier has left its territory, though some inside 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. He last attended a G20 gathering in person in Osaka, Japan, in 2019.