MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin vowed Wednesday to push back Ukrainian forces to reduce the threat of attacks on Russian territory as he met with activists running his campaign ahead of the March presidential election that he's all but certain to win.
Asked about plans for the military campaign in Ukraine, Putin said the line of contact needs to be pushed back to “such a distance from our territory that will make it safe from Western-supplied long-range artillery that Ukrainian authorities use for shelling peaceful cities.”
He added the Russian military has been doing just that, “pushing the enemy back from vital populated centers.”
“This is the main motive for our guys who are fighting and risking their lives there — to protect the Motherland, to protect our people,” he added.
Putin also said Russian investigators concluded that Ukraine used U.S.-supplied Patriot air defense systems to shoot down a Russian military transport plane in the Belgorod region on Jan. 24. Russian authorities said the crash killed all 74 people onboard, including 65 Ukrainian POWs heading for a swap.
Ukrainian officials didn't deny the plane's downing but didn't take responsibility and called for an international investigation.
Putin said Russia wouldn't just welcome but would “insist”…