Putin is smiling as Zelenskyy pleads for aid ahead of a long winter for Ukraine

Putin said there will be no peace until Russia's goal is achieved, as the EU permits talks over Ukraine's membership, as ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports

For a man whose army has suffered an estimated 300,000 casualties, whose army remains bogged down in a “three-week war” that now seems unwinnable, Vladimir Putin seemed pretty happy with himself on Thursday.

This time last year he wouldn’t take his regular December questions from press and public. 

Now, though, he is back in full flow with a smile on his face, and who can be surprised? 

He always predicted that if he waited long enough Western resolve on Ukraine would begin to fail, and the drama playing out in Brussels only points to him being right.

Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy is pleading with EU leaders “do not betray the people and their faith in Europe” as they gathered for their end-of-year summit.

A promise that the EU would formally begin the accession process for Ukraine to join the Union has been fulfilled – Hungary’s Viktor Orban had threatened to veto it, but backed down at the last moment. 

50 billion euros (£43 billion) in aid to Ukraine is under threat of the same veto, though a deal may yet be done Thursday evening to authorise the cash.

Coming so soon after Zelenskyy’s dash to Washington to try to unblock US aid, there is a real danger of Ukraine being cut adrift. 

Less than a year ago western leaders, from Joe Biden downwards, were turning up in Kyiv promising as much help as was needed for as long as it’s needed. 

Now, in contrast, it is Zelenskyy touring the West with a begging bowl. No wonder Putin is happy.

On the battlefield the Russians are far from in the ascendancy - and still taking unimaginable losses - but at the same time the Ukrainian summer offensive achieved little, and western arms have failed to turn the war.

Members of the pro-Ukrainian Russian ethnic Siberian Battalion rest at a military training close to Kyiv, Ukraine. Credit: AP

So rather than make overtures for peace, Putin simply reiterated the demands he made almost two years ago for Ukraine to be denazified, demilitarised and rendered neutral.

And until that happens, he said, there will be no peace.

A long winter lies ahead for Ukrainians.

A concerted aerial attack on their energy infrastructure is already underway, and their frontline forces lack the ammunition to match the Russian tactics of attrition.

The impressive unity among the country’s politicians in the face of the Russian threat appears to be splintering.

There have been a lot of worries about ending up with a “forever war” in Ukraine, a bloody, First World War-style stalemate stretching years into the future.

If the Western aid taps are cut off, that awful future could turn out to be the best Ukrainians can hope for.

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