Ukraine says Putin’s buffer zone comment is clear sign of looming escalation

By Thomson Reuters Mar 18, 2024 | 9:14 AM

KYIV (Reuters) – A senior Ukrainian official said on Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin’s idea of creating a buffer zone inside Ukrainian territory was a clear indication that Moscow planned to escalate its war in neighbouring Ukraine.

Putin raised the possibility of setting up a buffer zone during a speech after winning re-election on Sunday, a move the Kremlin said would be the only way to protect Russia from Ukrainian attacks.

“This is … a direct manifest statement that the war will only escalate,” presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters in a written statement.

“All this is direct evidence that the Russian Federation is not ready to live in modern social and political relations, taking into account the absolute sovereign rights of other countries,” he said.

Putin made the comment after winning a fifth term in the Krmelin at a three-day election decried as a sham by the West.

The Kremlin leader did not provide details, but said the buffer zone may have to be big enough to stop what he said were foreign-made weapons striking Russian territory.

Ukraine has previously said that it only uses its own weapons to hit Russian territory. Some of its key allies, such as the U.S., have provided weapons on the condition they are not used inside Russia.

Kyiv stepped up its long-range drone strikes on oil refineries in Russia last week and paramilitary groups also staged cross-border attacks from Ukraine into western Russia.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, writing by Max Hunder; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Toby Chopra)