Russian President Vladimir Putin observes military exercises at the Sergeevsky training ground in Primorsky krai region, Russia, on Tuesday. Kremlin Pool Photo by Mikhael Klimentyev/Sputnik/EPA-EFE
Sept. 7 (UPI) — A defiant Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his war in Ukraine on Wednesday and ridiculed the West for “aggressive” punitive sanctions that are intended to isolate Moscow.
Putin made the remarks at an economic conference in Vladivostok and vowed that Russia will always do whatever is needed to protect its national interests.
The speech came more than six months after Putin launched his war in Ukraine, which drew condemnation and economic sanctions from numerous countries, including Britain, the United States and the usually neutral Switzerland.
“The coronavirus epidemic has been replaced by other global challenges that threaten the entire world,” Putin said, according to The Moscow Times.
“I’m referring to the West’s sanctions fever.”
Putin traveled to Russia’s Far East region this week to observe military drills being conducted by Russian and Chinese troops. The exercises involve more than 50,000 soldiers, 5,000 military vehicles, 140 aircraft and 60 sea vessels, officials said.
Since the fighting began in Ukraine on Feb. 24, the United States has targeted people in Putin’s orbit with sanctions to exert pressure and bring an end to the war. Although the sanctions have been crippling, the war continues — and Putin gave no indication that it would end soon.
“Russia is a sovereign country, and we will always protect our national interests while pursuing an independent policy course,” he said at the forum, according to the state-run TASS news agency.
“Russia is coping with the economic, financial and technological aggression of the West. I’m talking about aggression, there’s no other word for it.”
The Kremlin leader insists, however, that the sanctions have failed.
“Russia’s currency and financial market has been stabilized, inflation is falling and the unemployment rate is at a historic low,” he said, according to TASS.
Punitive moves have targeted wealthy Russian oligarchs since the United States unveiled its KleptoCapture task force in March, which aims to enforce sanctions against them.
A month ago, U.S. prosecutors were given the go-ahead to seize a Russian oligarch’s $90 million private jet — and in June authorities took possession of a $300 million superyacht owned by oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.
Putin said the moves have backfired in some ways and pointed to the closure of some European businesses at a time of high inflation and energy costs.
To make matters worse, Russia shut down its main gas pipeline to Europe last week, threatening a potential heating crisis this coming winter.
U.S. officials have put the Russian death toll in Ukraine as high as 80,000. Putin, however, refused to acknowledge any losses in his speech Wednesday.
“I’m confident we haven’t lost anything and won’t lose anything,” he said according to the Times. “Our main gain is strengthening sovereignty.”
The Russian president added that his recent decision to lift a blockade of Ukraine grain shipments led European countries to act as colonialists and accused them of absconding with grain that was meant for developing nations. Ukrainian officials have denied the claim.
“With this approach, the scale of food problems in the world will only grow,” Putin said, and warned of “an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.”
Li Zhanshu, a top Chinese lawmaker who plans to meet with Putin next week, and Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing attended the Vladivostok conference. Russian media reported Wednesday that Putin will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping next week.
“Western countries are trying to preserve the former world order that’s only profitable to them,” Putin added.
“Other countries’ unwillingness to submit to this diktat and lawlessness forces Western elites to snap and make short-sighted speculative decisions in global security, politics and the economy.”