Vladimir Putin has told Kyiv it should quickly accept Moscow’s terms or brace for the worst, adding ominously that Russia has barely started its action in Ukraine.
The Russian president has also accused Western allies of fuelling the hostilities, charging that “the West wants to fight us until the last Ukrainian”.
“It’s a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but it looks like it’s heading in that direction,” he said during a meeting with leaders of the Kremlin-controlled parliament.
“Everybody should know that largely speaking, we haven’t even yet started anything in earnest.”
He insisted Russia remains ready to sit down for talks to end the fighting – but that “those who refuse to do so should know that the longer it lasts the more difficult it will be for them to make a deal with us”.
“We are hearing that they want to defeat us on the battlefield,” he added.
“Let them try.”
The Kremlin wants Kyiv to acknowledge Russian sovereignty over the Crimea peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
It is also demanding the independence of Moscow-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and an acceptance of the existing situation on the ground – a reference to other land gains it has made since troops invaded on 24 February.
After failing to capture Kyiv and other big cities in Ukraine’s northeast early in the campaign, the Russian military shifted its focus to Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas where Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian troops since 2014.
Earlier this week, the Russian military claimed control of the Luhansk province, one of the two regions that make up Donbas, and is preparing to press its offensive into the second one, the Donetsk region.
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In the early stages of the conflict, Russia won control of the southern Kherson region and part of neighbouring Zaporizhzhia.
Moscow is expected to try to eventually cut Ukraine off from its Black Sea coast all the way to the Romanian border.
Mr Putin reaffirmed his long-held claim that the West is using the conflict in Ukraine to try to isolate and weaken Russia.
“They simply don’t need such a country as Russia,” he said.
“This is why they have used terrorism, separatism and internal destructive forces in our country.”
He charged that Western sanctions against Russia have failed to achieve their goal of “sowing division and strife in our society and demoralising our people”.
“The course of history is unstoppable and attempts by the collective West to enforce its version of the global order are doomed to fail.”
However, Ukraine’s chief negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, dismissed these claims.
“There is no ‘collective West’ plan. Only a specific z-army which entered sovereign Ukraine, shelling cities and killing civilians,” he tweeted.
“Everything else is a primitive propaganda. That’s why Mr Putin’s mantra of the ‘war to the last Ukrainian’ is yet another proof of deliberate Russian genocide.”