Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 21 blamed the West for starting the conflict in Ukraine, saying Western countries, led by the United States, were seeking “unlimited power” in world affairs. In his long-anticipated state-of-the-nation address, updated Russia’s elite on Tuesday on the war in Ukraine, nearly one year to the day since ordering an invasion that has triggered the biggest confrontation with the West since the depths of the Cold War.
He also said Moscow was defying the West’s attempts to ruin Russia’s economy through an unprecedented package of sanctions, saying trillions of dollars were at stake for the West, but Russia’s income flows had not dried up.
“I am making this address at a time which we all know is a difficult, watershed moment for our country, a time of cardinal, irreversible changes around the world, the most important historic events that will shape the future of our country and our people,” Mr. Putin said
“We did everything possible, genuinely everything possible, in order to solve this problem (in Ukraine) by peaceful means. We were patient, we were negotiating a peaceful way out of this difficult conflict, but a completely different scenario was being prepared behind our backs,” he added.
Mr. Putin alleged that Western countries sought to turn the Ukraine conflict into a global confrontation with Russia, and that Russia’s existence was at stake.
“They intend to translate the local conflict into a global confrontation, we understand it this way and will react accordingly,” Mr. Putin told lawmakers.
Mr. Putin vowed to continue with Russia’s year-long war in Ukraine and accused the U.S.-led NATO alliance of fanning the flames of the conflict in the mistaken belief that it could defeat Russia.
Flanked by four Russian tricolour flags on either side of him, Mr. Putin told Russia’s political and military elite that Russia would “carefully and consistently resolve the tasks facing us.”
Mr. Putin said Russia had done everything it could to avoid war, but that Western-backed Ukraine had been planning to attack Crimea.
The West, Mr. Putin said, had let the genie out of the bottle in a host of regions of across the world by sowing chaos and war.
“The people of Ukraine themselves have become hostages of the Kyiv regime and its Western masters, who have actually occupied this country in a political, military, and economic sense,” Mr. Putin said.
When he spoke about the annexation of four Ukrainian territories last year, he got a standing ovation at the Gostiny Dvor exhibition centre just a few steps from the Kremlin.
He asked the audience, which included lawmakers, soldiers, spy chiefs and state company bosses, to stand to remember those who had lost their lives in the war. He promised a special fund for the families of those killed in the war.
The Ukraine conflict is by far the biggest bet by a Kremlin chief since at least the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union – and a gamble Western leaders such as U.S. President Joe Biden say he must lose.
Russian forces have suffered three major battlefield reversals since the war began but still control around one fifth of Ukraine.
Tens of thousands of men have been killed, and Mr. Putin, 70, now says Russia is locked in an existential battle with an arrogant West which he says wants to carve up Russia and steal its vast natural resources.
The West and Ukraine reject that narrative, and say NATO expansion eastwards is no justification for what they say is an imperial-style land grab doomed to failure.