Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the end of “the era of the unipolar world” in a combative speech that criticized Western countries at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.
“When they won the Cold War, the US declared itself God’s own representatives on Earth, people who have no responsibilities – only interests. They have declared those interests sacred. Now it’s a one-way street, which makes the world unstable,” Putin told the audience.
The much-hyped speech was delayed by more than 90 minutes due to a “massive” cyber attack. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in an impromptu conference call that the speech had been postponed due to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on the conference’s systems.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. The Ukrainian IT army, a hacker collective, named the St. Petersburg Forum as a target on its Telegram channel earlier this week.
Putin’s speech at the annual conference, one of his more substantial speeches since ordering the invasion of Ukraine nearly four months ago, was seen as an opportunity for the world to gain some insight into his thinking.
Once the Russian president took the stage in the western Russian city, he wasted no time on pleasantries and immediately threw himself into the attacks on the United States and its allies.
“They live on their own in the past with their own delusions… They think that… they’ve won and then everything else is a colony, a backyard. And the people living there are second-class citizens,” he said, adding that Russia’s “special operation” — the phrase the Russian government uses to describe its war against Ukraine — has become a “lifesaver for the West to all problems to Russia.”
After accusing Western countries of blaming Russia for their problems, Putin tried to put the blame for rising food prices on the “US government and the Euro bureaucracy”.
Ukraine is a major food producer, but the Russian invasion is affecting the entire production and supply chain. The United Nations has said the war has had a devastating impact on supplies and prices and warned it could push up to 49 million more people into starvation or famine-like conditions.
The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said last week that food has become part of the Kremlin’s ‘terror arsenal’.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of stealing Ukrainian grain, allegations that appear to have been confirmed by satellite images showing Russian ships being loaded with Ukrainian grain. In addition, Russia is blocking maritime access to the Ukrainian-owned Black Sea ports, meaning that even the grain 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 hurt the Russian economy, calling the sanctions against Moscow “crazy” and “reckless”.
“Clearly their intention is to destroy the Russian economy by breaking the logistics chains, freezing national assets and attacking living standards, but they were unsuccessful,” he added. “It did not work. Russian businessmen have united by working diligently, conscientiously and step by step to normalize the economic situation.”
The Russian president has long framed his decision to launch an invasion of Ukraine in 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 on Friday about his war against Ukraine, Putin went straight to his propaganda script, claiming that Russia was “forced” into the conflict.
He called the invasion “the decision of a sovereign country that has an unconditional right…to defend its security.”
“A decision aimed at protecting our citizens, residents of the People’s Republics of Donbas, who were subjected to genocide for eight years by the Kiev regime and neo-Nazis who were given the full protection of the West,” he said.
The two areas – the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) – fell under the control of Russian-backed separatists in 2014.
The Kremlin has accused Ukrainian authorities of discriminating against ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in the regions, a charge Kiev has denied. As of 2019, Russian passports were offered to the residents of the two entities.
Finally, in late February, Putin announced that he would recognize them as independent, a move seen as the opening salvo of the war.
He said on Friday that Russian soldiers and the separatists are “fighting to defend their people” in the Donbas and have the right to “reject any attempt to impose pseudo-values of dehumanization and moral degradation from outside” on the outside.
No country other than Russia recognizes the two as independent. Ukraine and the rest of the international community consider the areas to be under Russian occupation.
The European Commission announced Friday that it is recommending Ukraine and neighboring Moldova as EU candidate countries, with the commission’s chief Ursula von der Leyen saying Ukrainians are “ready to die” for the European perspective.
Speaking about the European Union on Friday, Putin said the bloc “has lost its sovereignty”.
“The European Union has completely lost its sovereignty, and its elites are dancing to someone else’s tune and harming their own people. The real interests of Europeans and European companies are totally ignored and pushed aside,” he said.
He later added that Russia has “nothing against” Ukraine joining the EU.
“The EU is not a military-political bloc, unlike NATO, which is why we have always said and I have always said that our position here is consistent and understandable, we have nothing against it,” Putin said during a panel discussion after his speech.
“It is the sovereign decision of each country whether or not to join economic associations, and it is up to this economic association to accept new states as its members or not. Let the EU countries decide for themselves, as far as it is expedient for the EU. Whether it will be in Ukraine’s favor or against it is also their business,” he said.