Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, on Red Square in central Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2022.
Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his hand was “forced” over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, claiming that a “blitzkrieg” of Western economic sanctions had not undermined the Russian economy.
Putin said the “stupid” sanctions, which have barred Russian banks from international payment systems and led to international companies fleeing the country en masse, “were doomed from the start”, adding that the country remains open for business “with those who want it.”
“The economic blitzkrieg against Russia was doomed from the start,” Putin said on Friday, according to a translation. Blitzkrieg describes a surprise attack with overwhelming power; a method often associated with Nazi Germany in World War II.
“Obviously they failed. It didn’t happen, they didn’t succeed,” he said.
During a plenary session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin accused the West of colonial arrogance, saying that Moscow’s so-called “special military operation” — which plunged Ukraine into all-out war and led to the deaths of thousands — was due to the West’s refusal to fulfill its obligations.
“The decision to launch our special military operation was something we had to do, they forced our hand,” he said, adding that the decision had been “difficult” but reaffirmed the Kremlin’s commitment to its military to achieve goals.
“All the missions we have imposed on ourselves and all the goals of the special military operation will be fully completed,” Putin said, provoking applause from those present.
The Russian president has long opposed what he sees as the expansion of the West – and NATO in particular – along the Russian border, using it as one of the justifications for his internationally condemned invasion of Ukraine.
Putin: ‘They blame us’
Putin also hit back at what he described as false accusations that the war in Ukraine, and its resulting implications for supply chains and commodity markets, were responsible for the deteriorating global economic landscape.
Putin said he might be “flattered” by the suggestion that the war in Russia could have a knock-on effect on the US economy, but insisted this wasn’t true — a view that has been widely disproved by economists.
“We would probably be flattered to hear that we are so big and so powerful that we can blow inflation in the US,” he said. “That’s just not true.”
In Europe, meanwhile, he said the worsening energy crisis was caused by “failures” in the region’s energy policy and, in particular, the “blind” belief in renewables. Europe has historically been a major importer of Russian hydrocarbons, but has since curtailed its dependence on Russia in response to the war, leading to oversupply and increased commodity prices.
“This started long before our special military operation in the Donbas, and they are blaming us. They have raised their prices and they are blaming us,” he said.
He also said the European Union could lose more than $400 billion as a result of the sanctions, which he said would hit back on those who imposed them.
His comments to an audience of business leaders at SPIEF come at a time when Russia remains isolated from the West because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
What could happen next?
Before the war, SPIEF was a prominent part of the business world’s agenda, with business leaders and political leaders heading to Putin’s hometown for the forum where Russia wanted to promote its economy and attract investors.
However, after the Covid pandemic – and now with the war in Ukraine – the event is looking drastically different, with many Western companies leaving Russia. In particular, Russia – now under a series of international sanctions – still maintains a close relationship with China and India, further strengthening its pivot to the east.
Russia initially launched a full-scale invasion (or what it calls its “special military operation”) into Ukraine on Feb. 24, saying it planned to “de-nazify and demilitarize” the country, making false claims about its leadership. in Kiev who have been rejected outright.
However, after invading from the north, east and south, it soon became apparent that the Russian forces had bitten off more than they could chew. Moscow then announced that its troops would withdraw from the capital Kiev to focus on the “liberation” of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, an industrial region that is home to two pro-Russian self-proclaimed “republics”.
Since its shift in strategy, Russia has crushed cities in the region and has made slow but steady progress, taking some of the territory in eastern and southeastern Ukraine.
Ukraine continues to ask its Western allies for more heavy weapons, although questions are being raised about how long such support will last.
If Russia takes all of Donbas, what happens next is uncertain. Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine stalled early in the conflict and Kiev has repeatedly said it will not cede territory to Moscow.
In the meantime, Russia is building statehoods in the occupied territories, handing out passports to residents of Kherson and Melitopol, and planning referendums in occupied cities like Kherson and Melitopol on joining Russia. Ukraine has condemned what it sees as the attempted “Russification” of its country, saying any referendums would be a sham and illegal.
There are widespread concerns that – even if Russia were able to capture a corner of Ukraine – it would be dissatisfied and may attempt a further invasion of Ukraine at a later date.
Other former Soviet republics such as Moldova and Georgia are also at risk. Putin has made no secret of his regrets about the collapse of the Soviet Union and last week even positioned himself as the successor to 17th-century tsar and builder of the Russian Empire, Peter the Great.