Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has admitted a “significant” loss of Russian troops since the invasion of Ukraine began, telling Sky News their deaths are a “tragedy”.
Dmitry Peskov, in his first broadcast interview with Western media, also said Russia hopes “this operation” will reach its goals “in the coming days”.
He told Sky News’ Mark Austin that “we’re living in days of fakes and lies” and verified photos and satellite images of dead civilians in the streets of Ukrainian cities were a “bold fake”.
“We deny the Russian military can have something in common with these atrocities and that dead bodies were shown on the streets of Bucha,” he told Sky News.
He maintained the whole situation in Bucha, where photos show many murdered Ukrainian civilians, was a “well-staged insinuation, nothing else”.
‘We’re living during days of fakes and lies’
Asked to reveal how many civilians have died since the war began on 24 February, Mr Peskov said he did not want to answer as the numbers were not “double confirmed”.
Mr Peskov continued to insist it was not a war but a “special military operation” that was necessary because, he said, Ukraine has been an “anti-Russian centre” since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.
He did admit: “We have significant losses of troops and it’s a huge tragedy for us.”
And in the first hint the Kremlin wants to see an end to the war – although in what form is unknown – he said: “Our military are doing their best to bring an end to that operation.
“And we do hope that in coming days, in the foreseeable future, this operation will reach its goals or will finish it by the negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian delegation.”
‘NATO’s main purpose is to confront our country’
The Kremlin has been concerned about Ukraine wanting to join NATO for years, and it is one of the reasons it invaded.
Put to Mr Peskov that NATO is now stronger not weaker due to the invasion, he said: “We have to rebalance the situation and we have to take additional measures to ensure our own security because we’re deeply convinced that NATO is a machine for confrontation, it’s not a peaceful alliance.
“It was tailored for confrontation and the main purpose for its existence is to confront our country.”
He added that if Finland and Sweden joined NATO Russia would have to “make our Western flank more sophisticated in terms of ensuring our security”.
“Everything is about mutual deterring and should one side – and we consider NATO to be one side – be more powerful than the other, especially in terms of nuclear arms, then it will be considered a threat for the whole architecture of security and it will take us to take additional measures,” he said.
‘Boris Johnson is very loud in his rhetoric’
Mr Peskov accused Boris Johnson of not being constructive in his criticisms of Russia.
“He’s very loud in his rhetoric about Russia from the beginning of the operation, he’s rather not constructive in his attitude,” he said.
“We’ve never heard any similar rhetoric from Boris Johnson in the last eight years.
“When people were killed in Donbas by Ukrainian nationalists, when they were heavily bombarded and shelled by heavy artillery, we have never heard a word coming from Mr Johnson.”
Mr Peskov shut down any suggestion Mr Putin would appear in a war crimes court, as Mr Johnson has called for, simply saying: “We don’t see any possibility for that, we don’t consider it to be realistic.”
Russia withdrew from Kyiv as an ‘act of goodwill’
Mr Peskov claimed Russia withdrew from the Ukrainian regions of Kyiv and Chernihiv as an act of “goodwill” after the two cities were hounded for weeks by Russian troops.
“It was a goodwill act to lift tension from those regions and show Russia is really ready to create comfortable conditions to continue negotiations,” he said.
The Pentagon said on Wednesday Russian forces fully withdrew from the capital and Chernihiv, a city to its north, in the 24 hours before.
But US intelligence authorities warned the Russians may have left mines behind and were still assessing the damage to both people and infrastructure.
Mariupol hospital bombing was a ‘fake’
On Mariupol, which is in the Donetsk region Russia has claimed as its own, Mr Peskov said it was going to be “liberated from nationalistic battalions – we hope it will happen sooner rather than later”.
The southeastern city has been besieged by Russian troops since the start of the war, with thousands left sheltering in basements without food, water or power.
Mr Peskov said Mariupol is part of the “Luhansk people’s republic”, which Russia recognises as a separate state, and claimed troops were there “to assist those people who were suffering for eight years from heavy shelling from Ukraine”.
On 9 March, the Russian Air Force bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol, killing at least four people and injuring at least 16, while leading to at least one stillbirth.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described it as a war crime but Mr Peskov said it was a “fake”.
“We have very serious reasons to believe it was a fake, and we insist on that,” he said.