President Vladimir Putin stated that the situation in the four regions of Ukraine that Moscow has declared to be part of Russia was "very challenging" and instructed the security services to increase monitoring to defend the country's borders and combat emerging threats.
Putin's remarks on Security Services Day, widely honored in Russia, came as Kyiv reiterated appeals for more armaments after Russian drones struck energy targets and as fears rise that Moscow's partner Belarus could open a new front of invasion against Ukraine.
Putin instructed the Federal Security Services (FSB) to increase surveillance of Russian society and the country's borders to battle the "development of new dangers" from abroad and domestic traitors.
Putin cautioned about the difficult situation in Ukraine's territories that Moscow annexed in September and instructed the FSB to safeguard the "safety" of those living there, a rare concession that the invasion of Ukraine was not proceeding well.
Putin said late Monday, as reported by Reuters, "the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia areas is exceedingly difficult."
Putin annexed almost 15 percent of Ukraine in a Kremlin ceremony in September, but earlier this month, he stated that the conflict "may be a long process."
Putin's annexation of the territories was deemed illegitimate by Kyiv and its Western supporters.
Putin made his first visit to Belarus since 2019 on Monday, where he and his partner praised ever-closer ties at a late-evening news conference but barely discussed Ukraine.
Russian "kamikaze" drones struck energy sites early Monday morning, prompting Kyiv to seek more armaments from the West.
In his evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for "weapons, shells, and new defense capabilities" to expedite the conflict's conclusion.
During Moscow's third air strike in six days, the Ukrainian military leadership stated that their air defenses shot down 23 of 28 drones, the majority of which were over the capital city of Kyiv. Russia has attacked the electricity grid of Ukraine, resulting in outages amid subzero temperatures.
The "kamikaze" drones employed in the attacks are disposable, low-cost aircraft that fly at high speed toward their target before crashing and exploding upon impact.
For months, there has been persistent Russian and Belarusian military action to the northwest of Ukraine in Belarus, a close Kremlin ally from where Moscow's troops launched their failed invasion of Kyiv in February.
Putin's visit to Minsk has stoked suspicions in Ukraine regarding the involvement of Belarusian armed troops in a broader capacity in the invasion. Putin and Lukashenko barely mentioned Ukraine at their post-discussion press conference, instead touting the advantages of defense and economic convergence.
Lukashenko has consistently stated that he has no intention of deploying his nation's soldiers into Ukraine, where Moscow's invasion failed miserably after a series of battlefield withdrawals in the face of a massive counteroffensive.
On Monday, the Kremlin rejected the notion that Putin wants Belarus to play a more prominent role. The RIA Novosti news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that such rumors were "baseless" and "dumb."
Putin and Lukashenko were vehemently opposed to Russia annexing or absorbing Belarus.
Putin stated that Russia has no interest in absorbing anyone.
When asked about this remark, the spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Ned Price, described it as the "height of irony," given that it was made by "a leader who is currently attempting to absorb his other peaceful neighbor violently."
Conflict rages on
The ten-month conflict in Ukraine, the largest in Europe since World War II, has resulted in thousands of deaths, millions of displacements, and city destruction.
Ukraine's General Staff reported that Russian artillery bombarded 25 towns and villages near Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the east and many sites near Kupiansk, a city in the northeast that Ukraine retook in September.
In addition, it was reported that Ukrainian air and artillery forces had conducted more than a dozen strikes on Russian troops and equipment, including ammo stores, and had shot down two helicopters.
Alexei Kulemzin, the Russian-installed mayor of Donetsk, stated that Ukrainian shelling hit a hospital wing and a daycare, publishing in Telegraph a photo of a waiting room with destroyed furniture and fixtures.
Reuters was unable to verify either side's combat claims independently.
Russia asserts that it is conducting a "special military operation" in Ukraine to eliminate nationalists and safeguard Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West characterize the acts of the Kremlin as an unjustified acts of aggression.