Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called on his chief intelligence agency, the Federal Security Services (FSB), and other security sectors to intensify the hunt for “traitors, spies and saboteurs” as his war in Ukraine falters.
“The counterintelligence agencies, including the military ones, need to show utmost readiness and concentration,” Putin said in a video address in which he called on all security agencies to counter terrorism and to safeguard “crowded places, strategic facilities, as well as transport and energy infrastructure.”
“It is necessary to put a firm stop to the activities of foreign special services, and to promptly identify traitors, spies and saboteurs,” he said, according to a translation by the Moscow Times.
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He further called on the FSB Border Guard to protect Russia’s borders, including those in the annexed regions Putin attempted to seize earlier this year.
“You are faced with difficult tasks now,” he said in some of his starkest comments yet on the situation in eastern and southern Ukraine. “The situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions is extremely complicated.”
Russia’s troops have not only failed to advance in the regions in recent months but have lost significant grounds in Ukraine beginning in September when its soldiers were forced to withdraw from Kharkiv.
Russian troops were later forced to retreat from the city of Kherson in November and cross the Dnieper River which separates the city from the eastern Kherson region.
Putin called on his flagging troops and said it is their “duty” to protect Russian citizens in the annexed regions.
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“We will continue to supply the new units with modern equipment and weapons, as well as experienced personnel,” he added.
But Western defense officials have long pointed to Russia’s inability to supply its troops and reports of inadequate soldier trainings have surfaced for months.
Putin’s forces have since faltered on the front lines, though brutal fighting remains in areas like Bakhmut in eastern Donetsk.
The U.K. defense ministry on Tuesday assessed that Ukrainian forces have retaken 54 percent of the territory that Russia seized since Feb 24, 2022, and noted that Russian forces now occupy just 18 percent of Ukraine, including Crimea.
Russia has instead relied on aerial campaigns to target civilian infrastructure and electrical grids.
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Putin’s comments Tuesday are one of the first times he has publicly acknowledged that his war in Ukraine is not going to plan and called on his security agencies to work harder.
“Today’s rapidly changing global situation and the emergence of new threats and challenges impose high demands on the entire system of Russia’s security agencies,” he said. “This means that you need to significantly improve your work in key areas, and use your operational, technical and personnel potential to the fullest.”