Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the end of the “unipolar world era” in a combative speech that criticized Western countries at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.
“When they won the Cold War, the United States declared itself to be God’s representatives on earth, people who have no responsibilities, only interests. They declared those interests sacred. Now it’s one-way traffic, which makes the world unstable, “Putin told the audience.
The much publicized speech was delayed for over 90 minutes due to a “massive” cyber attack. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on an impromptu conference call that the speech was postponed due to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on conference systems.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. The Ukrainian cyber army, a hacker collective, named the St. Petersburg Forum as a target earlier this week on its Telegram channel.
Putin’s speech at the annual conference, one of his most substantive speeches since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine nearly four months ago, was seen as an opportunity for the world to get a feel for his thinking.
Once the Russian president took the stage in the western Russian city, he wasted no time in pleasantries and went straight to attack the United States and its allies.
“They live in the past alone under their own disappointments… They think… they have won and then everything else is a colony, a courtyard. And the people who live there are second-class citizens, “he said, adding that Russia’s” special operation “- the expression used by the Russian government to describe its war on Ukraine – has become a” lifesaver for the country. ‘West to blame for all Russia problems. ”
After accusing Western countries of blaming Russia for their problems, Putin tried to blame the rise in food prices on the “US administration and the euro bureaucracy”.
Ukraine is a major food producer, but the Russian invasion affected the entire production and supply chain. The United Nations said the war had a devastating impact on supplies and prices and warned it could push up to 49 million more people into conditions of famine or famine.
European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said last week that food has become part of the Kremlin’s “arsenal of terror”.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of stealing Ukrainian grain, charges that appear to have been confirmed by satellite images showing Russian ships loaded with Ukrainian grain. Furthermore, Russia is blocking maritime access to Ukrainian-held Black Sea ports, which means that even wheat that is still under Ukrainian control cannot be exported to the many countries that depend on it.
The longtime Russian leader also blamed the West for trying to damage the Russian economy, calling the sanctions against Moscow “insane” and “reckless”.
“Their intention is clear to crush the Russian economy by breaking the chain, the logistic chains, freezing national assets and attacking the standard of living, but they have not been successful,” he added. “It did not work. Russian businessmen gathered working diligently, conscientiously and step by step we are normalizing the economic situation. ”
The Russian president has long framed his decision to launch an invasion of Ukraine as a response to Kiev’s growing diplomatic and security ties with the West. Last week, he hinted that his goal in Ukraine is to restore Russia as an imperial power.
Speaking about his war in Ukraine on Friday, Putin went straight to his propaganda playbook, claiming that Russia was “forced” into the conflict.
He called the invasion “the decision of a sovereign country that has the unconditional right … to defend its security”.
“A decision aimed at protecting our citizens, residing in the Donbas People’s Republics, who for eight years have been genocidal by the Kiev regime and neo-Nazis who have received full protection from the West,” he said.
The two areas – the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) – fell under the control of Russian-backed separatists in 2014.
The Kremlin has accused the Ukrainian authorities of discriminating against ethnic and Russian-speaking Russians in the regions, a charge which Kiev has denied. As of 2019, Russian passports have been offered to residents of the two entities.
Finally, in late February, Putin announced that he would recognize them as independent, a move that was seen as the opening salvo of the war.
On Friday he said that Russian soldiers and separatists were “fighting to defend their people” in Donbas and the right to “reject any attempt to impose pseudo values of dehumanization and moral degradation from without”.
No country other than Russia recognizes the two as independent. Ukraine and the rest of the international community consider the territories under Russian occupation.
The European Commission announced on Friday that it was recommending Ukraine and neighboring Moldova as EU candidate states, with commission head Ursula von der Leyen saying Ukrainians are “ready to die” from the European perspective.
Speaking about the European Union on Friday, Putin said the bloc had “lost its sovereignty”.
“The European Union has completely lost its sovereignty and its elites are dancing to someone else’s rhythm, harming their own people. The real interests of Europeans and European businesses are totally ignored and set aside, “she said.
He later added that Russia “has nothing against” Ukraine’s accession to the EU.
“The EU is not a political-military bloc, unlike NATO, so we have always said and have always said that our position here is coherent, understandable, we have nothing against it,” Putin said during a round table. after his speech.
“It is the sovereign decision of any country to join economic associations or not, and it is up to this economic association to accept or not new states as its members. As far as it is appropriate for the EU, the EU countries themselves decide. Whether it is to Ukraine’s advantage or to the detriment is their business, “she said.