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Russian Presidential hopeful calls Ukraine war 'big mistake' by Putin

 Boris Nadezhdin, a liberal Russian politician who aspires to run for president in March's presidential election, attends a meeting with soldiers' wives in Moscow, Russia, Jan 11, 2024. [AP Photo]

A Russian politician hoping to run against President Vladimir Putin in the country's upcoming presidential election characterized the Kremlin's decision to go to war against Ukraine as a "big mistake" on Thursday when he spoke with the wives of soldiers.

Boris Nadezhdin told the soldiers' wives that the war was "a big mistake by Putin, of course, and the consequences will be very grave."

Soldiers at the front were "fulfilling their debt, really spilling their blood there and risking their life — we want them simply to come back," he said.

Nadezhdin represents the center-right party Civic Initiative, which has no seats in parliament. He is trying to gather 100,000 signatures from people across the country to run against Putin, who has led Russia for more than two decades.

Putin is all but guaranteed to win reelection in March.

In the Latvian capital of Riga on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Moscow's plan was to make tactical advances on the battlefield ahead of the presidential election and that Russia would then take larger military action.

The comments came during Zelenskyy's last stop on a tour of the three Baltic nations.

Earlier on Thursday, during his visit to Estonia, Zelenskyy said a pause in Russia's war against Ukraine would only benefit Russia by allowing it to boost its supply of munitions and "run us over."

"A pause on the battlefield on the territory of Ukraine is not a pause in war. It is not the end of war," Zelenskyy said. "It doesn't lead to political dialogue with the Russian Federation or with someone else. This pause will only benefit the Russian Federation."

Zelenskyy's regional tour also included a stop in Lithuania.

The Ukrainian leader said Wednesday in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, that his country's forces have shown the world that Russia's military can be stopped, but said the Kyiv government badly needs Western allies to send it more air defense systems to shoot down an increased barrage of incoming Russian drones and missiles.

He acknowledged, however, that the stockpiles are low in countries that could assist Ukraine.

"Warehouses are empty," Zelenskyy said. "And there are many challenges to world defense."

In the United States, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby on Thursday said U.S. assistance for Ukraine's war effort has stopped amid ongoing negotiations in Washington over an aid package.

"The assistance that we provided has now ground to a halt," Kirby said.

Although U.S. aid to Ukraine has stopped for the time being, the U.S. State Department on Thursday imposed sanctions over the transfer of North Korean ballistic missiles to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

"We will not hesitate to take further actions," Blinken said in a statement announcing the sanctions against three Russian entities and one individual.

North Korea's "transfer of ballistic missiles to Russia supports Russia's war of aggression, increases the suffering of the Ukrainian people, and undermines the global nonproliferation regime," Blinken said.

As the war nears its two-year mark, Ukraine has said it is hoping to ramp up development of its domestic defense industry and work on joint projects with foreign governments to manufacture more ammunition and weapons.

Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are among Ukraine's staunchest political, financial and military supporters, and some in the Baltics worry they could be Moscow's next target.

The three countries were seized and annexed by Josef Stalin during World War II before regaining independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. They joined NATO in 2004, placing themselves under the military protection of the United States and its Western allies.

"Democratic countries have done a lot to help Ukraine, but we need to do more together so that Ukraine wins and the aggressor loses," Estonian President Alar Karis said in a statement.

"Then there is the hope that this will remain the last military aggression in Europe, where someone wants to dictate to their neighbor with missiles, drones and cannons what political choices can be made," he said.

As the Ukraine-Russia war drags on, Western military supplies to Ukraine have tailed off. In the United States, President Joe Biden's request for more Ukraine aid is stalled in Congress, while Europe's March pledge to provide 1 million artillery shells within 12 months has fallen short, with only about 300,000 delivered so far.

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