Putin blasts West for sanctions, renews gas supply threats

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called Western sanctions ‘stupid’ and threatened to halt all energy sales to Russia’s critics if they go ahead with a cap on oil prices proposed by the Group of Seven. industrialized economic powers.

“We will not supply gas, oil, coal, fuel oil – we will not supply anything,” Putin said in a defiant speech at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum, which was being held in the city. of Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East. East. Putin added that Moscow will let “the tail of the wolf freeze” in reference to a famous Russian fairy tale.

But in the West’s defiant rejoinder, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reiterated on Wednesday that the European Union intends to break Russia’s grip on global energy markets. and that it would continue not only to cap oil prices, but also that of natural gas. .

“Not only because Russia is an unreliable supplier, as we have seen in recent days, weeks, months, but also because Russia is actively manipulating the gas market,” von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels. . “I am deeply convinced that with our unity, our determination, our solidarity, we will prevail.”

Russian Gazprom announces that it will not reopen the Nord Stream gas pipeline to Europe as planned

In his combative, sometimes dismissive remarks, Putin said he expected his country to emerge stronger from the war in Ukraine, and he issued threats intended to pressure the West to ease the sanctions imposed on Russia since the start of the invasion on February 24.

“I’m sure we haven’t lost anything and we won’t lose anything,” Putin said. “The main thing is to strengthen our sovereignty, and that is the inevitable result of what is happening now.”

Putin said Russia would continue its military action in Ukraine and said the “polarization” produced by the conflict would only benefit Russia as it cleans out “harmful” elements inside the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on September 7 that Russia had won, not lost, from the conflict in Ukraine because it was embarking on a new sovereign path. (Video: Reuters)

Western intelligence agencies estimate that Russia has lost tens of thousands of soldiers during the six-month war and a large amount of military equipment that the country is struggling to replace. The Russian campaign has stalled in recent weeks and Ukraine, although still largely overwhelmed, is mounting a counter-offensive in the south aimed at retaking occupied territory.

As punishment for the Russian invasion, which initially sought – and failed – to capture Kyiv, the capital, and overthrow the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Western powers imposed an extraordinary barrage of economic sanctions and export controls aimed at crippling the Russian economy. But the results fell short of expectations as energy prices soared and Russia shifted its gas and oil sales to Asia.

Speaking on Wednesday, Putin called the G-7’s proposed oil and gas price caps “stupid” and said they would only further destabilize Europe’s economies. He also threatened that Russia would withdraw from existing supply contracts if the caps took effect.

“Will there be political decisions that contradict the contracts? Yes, we will not fill them. We won’t provide anything if it contradicts our interests,” Putin said, pointing to Moscow’s shift to Asian markets.

Western sanctions are hurting but not yet crushing the Russian economy

On Friday, Gazprom, the Russian gas giant that operates critical gas pipelines supplying Europe, indefinitely halted flow to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, which accounted for around 35% of all European gas imports from Russia last year.

In another disturbing development, Russian officials and pro-Kremlin Telegram channels widely shared a video supposedly showing frozen Europe in winter. The clip shows a Gazprom employee walking towards a closed gas valve, followed by scenes of a city covered in snow. Online sleuths have identified the frozen city as Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, which does not use natural gas but suffers from air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

In his speech, Putin dismissed the EU’s accusation that Russia is using energy as a weapon, and he reiterated Russia’s earlier claim that technical problems had caused the pipe to fail, complaining that the West was not providing a much-needed turbine to repair it.

“Nord Steam 1 is basically closed now,” Putin said on Wednesday. “There’s an oil leak there – it’s a potentially explosive situation, a fire hazard. … Give us a turbine, and we’ll start Nord Stream 1 tomorrow. But they don’t give us anything .

Putin, however, shrewdly proposed that Moscow was ready to “push the button” and pump gas “tomorrow” through the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which Germany has blocked since the start of operation, at the great fury of the Kremlin.

The Russian leader also dangled restrictions on another crucial European import that Moscow has leverage over: grain.

Putin claimed that most of the grain recently freed from Ukrainian ports thanks to a Turkish-brokered deal to end the Russian blockade was destined for the European Union rather than developing countries.

Accusing the West of “colonial” behavior, Putin said grain shipments to Europe should be halted.

“Once again they have simply deceived developing countries and continue to deceive them. … With this approach, the scale of food problems in the world will only increase,” Putin said. “Perhaps we should consider restricting this route for the grain and food trade? I will definitely consult the Turkish President.

G-7 countries say they will cap the price of Russian oil

Putin scoffed at suggestions that the impact of Western sanctions would devastate the Russian economy, noting that it would only contract “by about 2% or a little more” and that Russia’s 2022 budget would be in surplus .

“Russia faces economic, financial and technological aggression from the West,” Putin said. “We have passed the peak of the greatest difficulties, and the situation is normalizing.”

These assessments contradict Russian policymakers at the Central Bank of Russia and the Ministry of Economic Development, who recently said that while the economy has held up better than expected so far, 2023 could be much tougher as the effects of new penalties will be felt.

“No matter how much someone wants to isolate Russia, it’s impossible to do,” Putin said. “Just look at the map.”

The Eastern Economic Forum, held annually in Vladivostok to promote investment opportunities in Russia’s Far East, has had few Western guests this year.

At Wednesday’s plenary, Putin sat next to Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who has been sanctioned by the United States for human rights violations.

In August, Myanmar announced its intention to import oil from Russia, and this week Min Aung Hlaing told Putin that the country was ready to pay for imports in Russian rubles, helping Russia’s goal. to detach from the US dollar.

China’s top legislator, Li Zhanshu, and senior officials from Armenia and Mongolia also attended the forum. Russia’s Ambassador to Beijing Andrey Denisov announced on Wednesday that Putin was to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a summit in Uzbekistan next week, in their first face-to-face meeting since the invasion of China. ‘Ukraine.

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