President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spent more than four hours on Thursday answering questions at his year-end news conference, resuming an annual tradition at a critical moment for his war in Ukraine.

Russian forces are now attacking on several areas of the front line after fending off a Ukrainian counteroffensive, and there are signs that U.S. support for Ukraine is waning as a new aid package stalls in Congress.

Here are five takeaways from the news conference in Moscow, which was tightly controlled but gave some reporters a rare chance to pose direct questions.

Mr. Putin said his goals in Ukraine had not changed: the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the country. Those are the same vague and unfounded justifications that he used as he launched the invasion nearly two years ago, but Mr. Putin now finds himself in a position of relative strength.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, left empty-handed after traveling to Washington this week to press lawmakers to approve more aid — and Mr. Putin made clear that he thinks Western military support for Kyiv is running dry. Ukraine has been “getting everything as freebies,” he said. “But these freebies can run out at some point, and it looks like they’re already starting to run out.”

While the Russian leader reiterated that he was open to peace talks, he offered no hint of a willingness to compromise. “Peace will come when we achieve our goals,” Mr. Putin said.

For the first time, Mr. Putin commented on Evan Gershkovich, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal who was detained in March on espionage charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government have vehemently denied. Analysts have said that Mr. Gershkovich’s best hope of being released is through a prisoner exchange.

“We want to make a deal, but it should be mutually acceptable to both sides,” Mr. Putin said, referring to Mr. Gershkovich and to Paul Whelan, a former Marine and corporate executive who is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that the United States has also called politically motivated.

The Russian government is engaged in a “difficult” dialogue with the U.S. authorities over the possible release of the two men, Mr. Putin said.

Despite a flurry of international sanctions, Russia’s economy has regained its prewar size and is expected to grow by about 3 percent this year, as a significant increase in military spending stimulates production, while labor shortages force wages to rise.

But record state spending has come at a cost: Inflation has climbed sharply since the spring, and Mr. Putin acknowledged on Thursday that it could reach 8 percent this year. Reflecting the public anxiety about prices, one person asked the Russian leader what he planned to do about the rapidly rising cost of eggs. Mr. Putin responded with an off-color joke, before apologizing for his government not having come to grips with the problem.

Amid international condemnation of the enormous civilian toll from Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, Mr. Putin sought to make a distinction between the actions of the Russian military and those of Israeli forces, an argument he has been leveraging to try to discredit the West and garner sympathy.

“Look at the special military operation” — his term for the war in Ukraine — “and look at what’s happening in Gaza, and feel the difference,” Mr. Putin said. “Nothing of the sort is happening in Ukraine.” (In fact, Russia’s invasion has killed thousands of Ukrainian civilians.)

Mr. Putin also attempted to counter Western efforts to turn Russia into a global pariah over the invasion. “In many cities in Europe and the U.S., not to mention other world regions, a lot of people think that we are doing everything right,” he said.

Still, he predicted that relations with the United States could someday improve. “As for the United States, we are ready to build relations with them,” he said. “We believe that the world needs the U.S.”

Russia’s presidential election was barely mentioned, suggesting that Mr. Putin may view the outcome of the race as a foregone conclusion. With the political system under his firm control, Mr. Putin is widely expected to win another six-year term in the election in March.

One journalist at the news conference expressed support for Mr. Putin’s candidacy, telling the Russian leader that “you’re in power as long as I can remember myself.”

Ivan Nechepurenko and Anatoly Kurmanaev contributed reporting.

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