Now Putin scraps New Year’s Eve plan to play ice hockey on Red Square after axing his live TV press conference in apparent bid to avoid being quizzed over failing Ukraine invasion
- Vladimir Putin, 70, traditionally plays ice hockey in Red Square on New Year
- But Kremlin spokesman confirmed today that he will not be participating
- Comes after he cancelled his usual end-of-year press conference, prompting speculation he didn’t want to face questions over the Ukraine war
Vladimir Putin will not take place in a game of ice hockey that he traditionally hosts each New Year in Moscow’s Red Square.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, confirmed today that 70-year-old Putin will not participate this year – but did not give a reason for the absence.
The game is part of an amateur league that Putin established in 2011 and sometimes plays in. In 2020, he was joined by Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
It comes after Putin also cancelled a traditional end-of-year press conference, also without a reason being given, though there is speculation he does not want to face questions over the war on Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin will not take place in an annual ice hockey game that he traditionally hosts in Red Square around New Year (pictured at the game in 2020)
The cancellations also come amid rumours that Putin is suffering from ill-health.
Vladimir Putin has scrapped his annual live television press conference in an apparent bid to avoid being quizzed over his failing invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian president has held a press conference in December most years of his rule, beginning in 2000. Last year, he spoke for more than four hours.
Annual ice hockey games have also taken place in most years, and kept going despite the Covid pandemic.
But they would now taking place against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, which has turned into a massive geopolitical misstep for Putin.
During the media gathering – a major political event in the country – Putin takes questions from the press and the public in a marathon that usually lasts several hours, but could have faced tough questions this year on his disastrous invasion.
He routinely faces questions from 500-plus Russian and also foreign journalists. In 2019, a record 1,895 journalists were accredited. The major end of year session usually takes place between 14 and 23 December.
The decision came even though reports suggest he had already decided that Western media should be banned from the event amid the war in Ukraine.
The moves mean he is not even ready to face Russian journalists in the glare of a major live event and be openly quizzed about his war.
Putin (pictured alongside Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko during the 2020 game) has also recently cancelled his traditional end-of-year press conference
Pictured: Ukrainian service members carry weapons in Bakhmut, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, December 9
Peskov said Putin would find a way to communicate with the Kremlin ‘pool’, mainly Uber-loyalist journalists, many from state media, despite aborting the live session which was one of the highlights of his year.
He also indicated a press conference could take place in the New Year, but gave no specified date or format.
Putin had earlier postponed his annual live Direct Line question and answer session with ordinary Russians amid evident concerns he would face complaints over the war and his chaotic partial mobilisation.
Moscow has seen 100,000-plus of its soldiers dead or wounded since the invasion began, and has lost thousands of tanks and other items of military hardware.
Peskov also failed to give a date for Putin to address the senate – or Federation Council – which is a formal annual duty under the constitution.
The announcement will fuel suspicions that Putin is running scared of scrutiny of his handling of the war which he calls a special military operation.
It will also raise questions over whether – at the age of 70 – he is sufficiently healthy to endure the long sessions when he is under the world’s gaze.
Putin is also not to host a New Year celebration, Peskov announced.
There has been significant speculation about Putin’s health, including persistent – but unproven – rumours that he is suffering from cancer, and other conditions.
There are also rumours that he underwent minor surgery at the weekend after an alleged fall down the stairs at an official residence.
The Kremlin denied he suffered a fall.
In its daily update on the military situation on Monday, Ukraine’s General Staff said its forces had repelled Russian assaults on four settlements in the eastern Donetsk region and on eight settlements in the adjacent Luhansk region.
Pictured: Russian armoured vehicles and tanks are exhibited in Saint Michael’s Square after the snowfall in Kyiv, Ukraine on December 12, 2022
Russia kept up its attacks on Bakhmut, which is now largely in ruins, Avdiivka, and Lyman, and launched two missile strikes against civilian infrastructure in Kostyantynivka, all in the Donetsk region – one of four that Moscow claims to have annexed from Ukraine after ‘referendums’ branded illegal by Kyiv.
Ukraine has said Russian forces are suffering huge losses on the eastern front in brutal fighting that is also taking its toll on its own troops.
But as Russia continues to hurl what is left of its offensive power at entrenched Ukrainian positions in and around Bakhmut, experts have wondered whether the losses in manpower and equipment will match the potential prize.
‘We are scratching our heads,’ a Western official told AFP this week when asked about Russia’s focus on Bakhmut. ‘We don’t know the answer.’
Elsewhere, Russian forces carried out more than 60 attacks from rocket salvo systems targeting the civilian infrastructure in Kherson, the southern city liberated by Ukrainian forces last month, and Ukrainian troops based there.
Russia also shelled settlements along the Zaporizhzhia frontline in southern central Ukraine, it said, while Ukrainian forces hit Russian control points, munitions warehouses and other targets.
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