Russian President Vladimir Putin answering the journalists' questions in Ashgabat on Wednesday (Images courtesy: Kremlin.ru/Dmitry Azarov)
The liberation of Donbass region in southeastern Ukraine remains the "ultimate goal" of Moscow's ongoing 'special military operation', Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Ashgabat Wednesday evening.
After wrapping up his visit to Tajikistan, Putin travelled to Turkmenistan's capital city to participate in the 6th Caspian Summit.
The Presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan also took part in the meeting of the heads of state of the Caspian Five.
On the sidelines of the event, Putin told reporters that everything was going "according to plan" in Ukraine.
"The ultimate goal I have outlined is the liberation of Donbass, the protection of these people and the creation of conditions that would guarantee the security of Russia itself. That's all. The work is going smoothly, rhythmically. As you can see, the troops are moving and reaching those lines that are set as a task at a certain stage of this combat work," he said.
Replying to a question on when the Russian operation in Ukraine would end, Putin made it clear that no deadlines can be set right now.
"There is no need to talk about the timing, I never talk about it, because this is life, these are real things. Adjusting to what time frame is wrong, because, I have already said about this, it is connected with the intensity of hostilities, and the intensity is directly related to possible losses. And we must first of all think about how to save the lives of our children," commented the Russian President.
Putin also dubbed NATO - which declared Russia a direct threat to the security of the alliance during its Summit in Madrid on Wednesday - as a bloc which is "a vestige of a past era - the era of the Cold War". He accused the NATO leaders of preparing for active actions against Russia since 2014.
"They have long needed some kind of external enemy, around the threat from which they could unite allies around themselves. I'm talking primarily about the States. Iran was not very suitable for this role, Russia is better suited. We gave them such a chance - to unite all the allies around us at a new historical turn," Putin told the gathered media.
As NATO invites Sweden and Finland to join its alliance, Putin said that unlike Ukraine, Moscow has "nothing to worry about" in terms of Finland's or Sweden's membership in NATO as there are no territorial issues or other disputes involved. But, he warned, Russia would respond strongly if it faces threats from the two countries.
"Only they should clearly and clearly imagine that before there were no threats to them, now if military contingents and infrastructure is deployed there, we will have to respond in a mirror manner and create the same threats for the territories from which threats are created to us. This is the obvious thing. Do they not understand this? Everything was fine with us, but now there will be some tensions, this is obvious," asserted the Russian President.
When asked about his response to Monday's missile strikes on a shopping mall in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, Putin stated that Russian forces have evidence from drones of Ukrainian forces placing weapons, MLRS systems, artillery, heavy equipment in general in residential areas.
"I'm sure it was the same in this case. They hide the equipment, especially the one that is delivered from the West, to all sorts of hangars, markets, factories, workshops where the equipment is repaired or put in order after a long period of distillation from the same abroad.
"The Russian army does not strike at any civilian targets - there is no need. We have every opportunity to determine what is where, and with modern long-range precision weapons, we achieve these goals. Of course, I will find out the details when I return to Moscow," Putin said.