Putin accuses West of stoking global war to destroy Russia, vows to continue fighting in Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday vowed to continue with his country’s year-long war in Ukraine and accused the United States-led Nato military alliance of fanning the flames of the conflict in the mistaken belief that it could defeat Moscow in a global confrontation.
He updated Russia’s political and military elite on the war nearly one year to the day since ordering the invasion that has triggered the biggest confrontation with the West since the depths of the Cold War.
He said the events leading to Moscow’s “special military operation” on Feb 24, 2022, were forced upon Russia.
“We did everything possible, genuinely everything possible, in order to solve this problem (in Ukraine) by peaceful means. We were patient, we were negotiating a peaceful way out of this difficult conflict, but a completely different scenario was being prepared behind our backs,” he said from Russia’s Parliament.
Flanked by four Russian tricolour flags, Putin said Russia would “carefully and consistently resolve the tasks facing us”.
Putin said Western countries, led by the US, were seeking “unlimited power” in world affairs and that Kyiv was speaking to the West about weapon supplies even before the beginning of the invasion.
The President added that Russia had done everything it could to avoid war, but that Western-backed Ukraine had been planning to attack Russian-controlled Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.
The West, he said, had let the genie out of the bottle in a host of regions across the world by sowing chaos and war.
“The people of Ukraine have become the hostage of the Kyiv regime and its Western overlords, who have effectively occupied this country in the political, military and economic sense,” Putin said.
“They intend to translate the local conflict into a global confrontation, we understand it this way and will react accordingly.”
Defeating Russia, the 70-year-old said, was impossible.
Putin said Russia would never yield to Western attempts to divide its society, adding that the majority of Russians supported the war.
He warned the West may incite a backlash over money flows to the war that were “not diminishing”.
Putin said: “The more long-range Western systems are being delivered to Ukraine, the farther we will be forced to move the threat from our borders.”
When he spoke about the annexation of four Ukrainian territories in 2022, he got a standing ovation at the Gostiny Dvor exhibition centre, just a few steps from the Kremlin.
Towards the end of the speech, Putin said Russia was suspending its participation in the New Start treaty with the US that limits the two sides’ strategic nuclear arsenals.
Together, Russia and the US hold around 90 % of the world’s nuclear warheads – enough to destroy the planet many times over.
Putin asked the audience, who included lawmakers, soldiers, spy chiefs and state company bosses, to stand to remember those who had lost their lives in the war.
He promised a special fund for the families of those killed in the war.
He said the West was supporting “traitors” who opposed Russia’s actions, and thanked Russians for their “courage and resolution” in supporting Moscow’s operation in Ukraine.
Putin said he understood how difficult it was for the relatives of Russian soldiers who had died fighting in Ukraine.
“We all understand, I understand how unbearably hard it is now for the wives, sons, daughters of fallen soldiers, their parents, who raised worthy defenders of the Fatherland,” he said.
The Ukraine conflict is by far the biggest bet by a Kremlin chief since at least the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union – and a gamble Western leaders such as US President Joe Biden say Putin must lose.
Russian forces have suffered three major battlefield reversals since the war began, but still control around one-fifth of Ukraine.
Tens of thousands of men have been killed, and Putin has said Russia is locked in an existential battle with an arrogant West, which he says wants to carve up Russia and steal its vast natural resources.
The West and Ukraine reject that narrative, and say Nato expansion eastwards is no justification for what they say is an imperial-style land grab doomed to failure.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan described Putin’s accusations that Russia had been threatened by the West as justification for invading Ukraine as “absurdity”.
“Nobody is attacking Russia. There is a kind of absurdity in the notion that Russia was under some form of military threat from Ukraine or anyone else,” he told reporters.
Speaking hours ahead of Biden delivering his own speech in Warsaw to mark the anniversary of the war, Sullivan said the Kremlin leader was the aggressor.
“This was a war of choice. Putin chose to fight it. He could have chosen not to. And he can choose even now to end it, to go home,” he added.
“Russia stops fighting the war in Ukraine and goes home, the war ends. Ukraine stops fighting and the United States and the coalition stops helping them fight – then Ukraine disappears from the map.”
Putin, who frequently decries Western gender and sexual freedoms as an existential danger, said on Tuesday that paedophilia had become the norm in the West.
“Look at what they do to their own people: The destruction of families, of cultural and national identities and the perversion that is child abuse all the way up to paedophilia, are advertised as the norm... and priests are forced to bless same-sex marriages,” he said.
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said Putin’s speech showed he has lost touch with reality.
“He is in a completely different reality, where there is no opportunity to conduct a dialogue about justice and international law,” said the adviser to Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky.
Tilt to Asia?
Putin, who was handed the presidency in 1999 by Boris Yeltsin, said the West had failed to destroy the Russian economy with the severest sanctions in modern history.
“They want to make the people suffer... but their calculation did not materialise. The Russian economy and the management turned out to be much stronger than they thought,” he added.
Russia’s US$2.1 trillion (S$2.8 trillion) economy is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to grow 0.3 per cent this year, far below China’s and India’s growth rates, but a much better result than was forecast when the war began.
Russia was turning to major Asian powers, Putin said, and will expand ties and build economic cooperation with countries such as India, Iran and Pakistan.