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Putin accuses Crimean bridge bombing of deceiving grain shipment

Mr Putin was answering Russian questions in Astana, the Kazakh capital, where he was attending a summit with Central Asian leaders who have been wary of Russia since it invaded Ukraine in February.

The Russian leader also met Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, and Middle Eastern leaders on the sidelines of the summit.

Mr Putin struck a distinctly defensive tone during the 30-minute question and answer session. He tried to appear relaxed, cracking jokes with pro-Kremlin reporters, abandoning his usual bombastic attitude.

Mr Putin said Russia was “doing everything right” in Ukraine, although he acknowledged governments were worried about the fallout.

“Of course (our) partners are interested and worried about the future of Russian-Ukrainian relations,” he said.

Putin defends mobilization in the face of criticism

Mr Putin also made his first comments since NATO warned that any nuclear strike by Russia would trigger a major reaction, saying a direct confrontation was “dangerous” and would lead to “global catastrophe”.

An estimated 200,000 Russians, mostly young men, fled Russia to Kazakhstan in the fortnight after Mr Putin announced a partial mobilization on September 21.

Critics said the mobilization was shoddy and poorly executed with conscripts sent to war untrained and with poor equipment. Military bloggers have also said that the first coffins containing the bodies of dead men conscripted just three weeks ago have already been flown to Russia from Ukraine.

But Mr Putin defended his mobilization, insisting that it was necessary and that 220,000 men, out of the 300,000 targeted, had already been enlisted.

“In about two weeks, all mobilization activities will be completed,” he said.

Despite Mr Putin’s protests that Russia’s first mobilization since World War Two was limited, yesterday’s reports from Moscow suggested otherwise.

Videos and photos showed police waiting outside buildings and subway stations to serve men with mobilization orders. There have also been reports of police raiding construction sites and pulling men from their bunk beds to join the army.

Separately, the French navy said it chaperoned a Russian submarine out of its territorial waters last month after it was spotted sailing on the surface of the sea near Brittany.