Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia has “not lost a thing” from the war in Ukraine and has strengthened itself during the conflict while he strived to paint the Western world as struggling with economic crises.
Speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia — where he delivered opening remarks castigating the Western world for about half of his speech — Putin acknowledged the war has polarized his country but said Russia will “stand to benefit” from the effort and that he would “carry it through” to the end.
“I’m confident that we have not lost a thing, nor are we going to lose anything,” the Russian leader said at the annual economic and trade forum for Eastern world leaders. “The greatest achievement is a stronger sovereignty for Russia, which is an inevitable outcome for what is currently happening. It’s true we see a certain polarization in the world and inside the country, but I think we will only stand to benefit from that.”
Putin also claimed that Russia did not initiate the war in Ukraine. His forces invaded the Eastern European nation in late February after he called Ukrainian leaders “nazis” and puppets of the West.
“We did not start anything as far as military action goes. We’re trying to end the military action,” Putin said. “The military action started in 2014 after a coup d’état in Ukraine by those who did not want a normal, peaceful development, who wanted to suppress their people.”
In 2014, Ukrainians seeking closer ties to the European Union erupted in protest after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych suspended an association agreement with the 27-member nation economic bloc.
Security forces killed around 100 protesters before pressure grew and Yanukovych was forced to flee to Russia. Putin responded by annexing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and fomenting rebellions in the eastern region of the nation before he invaded the country full force in February.
The war has dragged on without a decisive victory from either side, but over the spring, Russian troops were pushed out of the capital region of Kyiv and the western portion of Ukraine.
Russia is concentrating its attacks in the east and has taken some key cities. Ukraine recently announced that a large counterattack to reclaim territory is underway.
U.S. officials, who are heavily backing Ukraine financially along with other Western nations, estimated in August that Russia has suffered around 70,000 to 80,000 casualties in under six months. There are reports of soldiers resigning from the army in protest.
Inside Russia, the war is considered to be divisive, although it’s unclear how strong the opposition is.
Russia over the spring passed laws to criminalize language about the war in Ukraine, which Putin calls a “special military operation,” and has cracked down on protesters. From late February to early March, more than 13,000 Russians protesting the war were arrested.
At the economic forum on Wednesday, an important event for trade and foreign investment in Russia, Putin downplayed the slew of Western sanctions employed against his country.
The Russian leader also portrayed the U.S. and its allies as “slipping” on the world stage because the dollar and European currencies have decreased in value as the countries face high inflation rates.
“The whole system of international relations has seen irreversible, tectonic shifts,” Putin said. “The level of industrial development Europe has attained — the quality of life, social and economic stability, all of that —has sort of been burned to fuel by the sanctions machine.
“Back in spring, many foreign corporations were racing to announce their pullout from Russia, thinking that it was our country that would stand to suffer the most,” he continued. “But as we can see [it’s] Europe itself shutting down production facilities and jobs.”
The European Council estimated last month that Russia’s inflation rate climbed to 22 percent, compared to an 8.5 percent increase in the U.S.
The council also said trade has plummeted in Russia, with both exports and imports of products down more than 30 percent.
But Putin argued Russia was “overcoming financial and technological aggression” from the West and his nation was trending “upward’ while the Western world was trending “downward.”
“We have stabilized our currency market, our financial market, [and] the inflation rate is going down,” the Russian leader claimed. “Russia as a sovereign nation will always protect our national interests.”