Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of colonial arrogance and of trying to crush his country with “stupid” sanctions that amounted to an economic “blitzkrieg”.
Addressing the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday, a showcase event this year being held with almost no Western participation, Putin told Russia’s political and economic elite that he would continue his war on Ukraine.
“We are strong people and can cope with any challenge. Like our ancestors, we will solve any problem, the entire thousand-year history of our country speaks of this,” he said.
Putin drew applause from the hall when he reaffirmed his determination to continue the “special military operation” in Ukraine that has unleashed what he said was an “unprecedented” barrage of Western economic sanctions.
He said the main aim of the invasion was to defend “our” people in the largely Russian-speaking Donbas region of eastern Ukraine – a justification that Kyiv and the West dismiss as a baseless pretext for a war that has already led to the occupation of parts of southern Ukraine far beyond the Donbas.
Putin said that Russian soldiers in the Donbas were also fighting to defend Russia’s own “rights to secure development”.
“In the current situation, against a backdrop of increasing risks for us and threats, Russia’s decision to conduct a special military operation was forced – difficult, of course, but forced and necessary,” he said.
Putin said the United States considered itself “God’s emissary on Earth”, and that Western sanctions were founded on a false premise that Russia had no economic sovereignty.
Washington and its allies were trying to “change the course of history”, he said, to weaken a sovereign, independent Russia.
He said Moscow would continue to develop as an “open economy” despite Western sanctions imposed as a result of its invasion of Ukraine.
Some global currencies were “committing suicide”, Putin said, in a reference to the unprecedented freezing of about $300bn of Russia’s foreign currency reserves.
Russia, he said, would keep dealing with Western companies, and he hoped gas flows would increase via new routes.
Russia would also continue to expand economic cooperation “with those who want it”, he added.
Shortly before Putin was due to begin speaking at the forum, the Kremlin announced that a “denial of service” cyberattack had disabled the accreditation and admission systems of the conference, forcing the Russian president to delay the scheduled start of his speech by an hour.