While Putin asked the FSB to strengthen security, Moscow said it is open to peace talks but will not give up on annexed regions.
Russian forces have continued their week-long drive to surround and take the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, where the commander of Ukrainian ground forces described the situation as “extremely tense”.
The Ukrainian military said on Tuesday that Russia was shelling settlements around Bakhmut, which had a pre-war population of about 70,000 but is now in ruins after months of intense trench warfare.
“In the past day, our soldiers have repelled more than 60 enemy attacks,” the army said early Tuesday, including on the villages of Yadhidne and Berkhivka just north of Bakhmut.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered the Federal Security Service (FSB) to strengthen military forces in the four regions — currently only partially controlled by his forces — and also to counter what he described as growing espionage and sabotage operations against Russia through Ukraine and the West.
He was speaking after a Russian regional governor said a drone crashed near a natural gas distribution station on Tuesday in an apparently botched attack near the town of Kolomna, just 110km (68 miles) southeast of Moscow.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated Moscow’s position that it is open to peace negotiations but that Kiev and its Western allies must accept Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia – after referenda last September that Kiev and the West were illegal.
“The Constitution of the Russian Federation exists and cannot be ignored. Russia will never be able to compromise on this, these are important realities,” Peskov told reporters.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl described the front line in Ukraine as a “wear and tear slog” and said he did not expect Russia to be able to make significant territorial gains any time soon.
“You may see small parts of the territory change hands in the coming weeks and months. I don’t think there is anything to indicate that the Russians can overrun Ukraine and make significant territorial gains in the next year or so,” Kahl said at a House hearing.
The US also said on Tuesday it would not hesitate to attack Chinese companies and individuals if Beijing violates US sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said.
If China provides deadly aid to Moscow, it will be a serious problem for Beijing’s relationship with countries around the world, Blinken told reporters during a trip to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
However, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence has brushed aside claims that China is considering supplying arms to Russia, telling US media he saw no “signs that such things are even being discussed,” AFP reported.
The Kremlin has said Moscow is open to peace talks but is not ready to give up the four annexed regions.
Also on Tuesday, the EU made plans to extend its measures to reduce gas consumption until next winter to replenish supplies, the bloc’s energy ministers have said.
The EU regulation passed last year is set to expire at the end of March, said EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson, adding that the energy commission sees “continued reduction in demand as an option with no regrets”.
EU member states will have to agree on any new reduction target for next winter, with Germany, the EU’s largest economy, demanding a target of more than 15 percent.