Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia had “lost nothing” from the war in Ukraine and had grown stronger during the conflict while trying to portray the Western world as grappling with economic crises.
speaking to the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia – where he delivered a keynote lambasting the Western world for about half of his speech – Putin acknowledged the war had polarized his country, but said Russia would “benefit” from the effort and that he would “carry it out” to the end.
“I am convinced that we have lost nothing and will not lose anything,” the Russian leader said at the annual Eastern World Leaders Economic and Trade Forum. “The biggest achievement is stronger sovereignty for Russia, which is an inevitable outcome for what is happening now. It is true that we see a certain polarization in the world and within the country, but I think that we will only benefit from it.
Putin also claimed that Russia did not start the war in Ukraine. His forces invaded the Eastern European nation in late February after calling Ukraine’s leaders “Nazis” and puppets of the West.
“We haven’t started anything as far as military action is concerned. We are trying to end the military action,” Putin said. “The military action started in 2014 after a coup in Ukraine by those who did not want normal and peaceful development, who wanted to suppress their people.”
In 2014, Ukrainians seeking closer ties with the European Union erupted in protest after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych suspended an association agreement with the economic bloc of 27 member countries.
Security forces killed around 100 protesters before pressure mounted and Yanukovych was forced to flee to Russia. Putin responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine and fomenting rebellions in the nation’s eastern region before invading the country with full force in February.
The war dragged on without a decisive victory on either side, but during the spring Russian troops were driven out of the Kyiv capital region and the western part of Ukraine.
Russia is concentrating its attacks in the east and has taken some key towns. Ukraine recently announced that a massive counterattack to reclaim territory was underway.
US officials, who strongly support Ukraine financially along with other Western countries, estimated in August that Russia had suffered about 70,000 to 80,000 victims in less than six months. There are reports of soldiers quitting the military in protest.
In Russia, the war is seen as divisive, although the strength of the opposition is unclear.
Over the spring, Russia passed laws to criminalize language about the war in Ukraine, which Putin calls a “special military operation,” and cracked down on protesters. From late February to early March, more than 13,000 Russians protesting against the war were arrested.
At Wednesday’s economic forum, an important event for trade and foreign investment in Russia, Putin downplayed the host of Western sanctions employed against his country.
The Russian leader also described the United States and its allies as “sliding” on the world stage because the dollar and European currencies have lost value as countries face high rates of inflation.
“The whole system of international relations has undergone irreversible and tectonic changes,” Putin said. “The level of industrial development that Europe has achieved – the quality of life, social and economic stability, all that – has somehow been burned by the sanctions machine.
“Last spring, many foreign companies were rushing to announce their withdrawal from Russia, thinking that our country would suffer the most,” he continued. “But as you can see [it’s] Europe itself is closing production facilities and jobs.
The European Council estimated last month that Russia’s inflation rate rose to 22%, compared to an 8.5% increase in the United States
The council also said trade had plummeted in Russia, with exports and imports of products falling by more than 30%.
But Putin argued that Russia was “overcoming financial and technological aggression” from the West and that his nation was trending “up” while the Western world was trending “down”.
“We have stabilized our foreign exchange market, our financial market, [and] the inflation rate is falling,” the Russian leader said. “Russia as a sovereign nation will always protect our national interests.”