MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow will press on with its military action in Ukraine until reaching its goals and mocked Western attempts to drive Russia into a corner with sanctions.
Putin told at an annual economic forum in the far-eastern port city of Vladivostok that the main goal behind sending troops into Ukraine was protecting civilians in the east of that country after eight years of fighting.
“It wasn’t us who started the military action, we are trying to put an end to it,” Putin said, reaffirming his argument that he sent troops into Ukraine to protect Moscow-backed separatist regions in Ukraine, which have fought Ukrainian forces in the conflict that erupted in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“All our action has been aimed at helping people living in the Donbas, it’s our duty and we will fulfill it until the end,” he said.
Putin claimed that Russia has strengthened its sovereignty in the face of Western sanctions, which he said bordered on an aggression.
“Russia has resisted the economic, financial and technological aggression of the West,” Putin said. “I’m sure that we haven’t lost anything and we won’t lose anything. The most important gain is the strengthening of our sovereignty, it’s an inevitable result of what’s going on.”
The Russian leader acknowledged that the national economy will shrink by 2% this year, but said that the economic and financial situation in Russia has stabilized, consumer prices inflation has slowed down and unemployment has remained low.
“There has been a certain polarization in the world and inside the country, but I see it as a positive thing,” he added. “Everything unnecessary, harmful, everything that has prevented us from going forward will be rejected and we will gain development tempo because development can only be based on sovereignty.”
Putin emphasized that Russia will keep protecting its sovereignty in the face of what he described as an attempt by the US and its allies to preserve their global dominance, saying that “the world mustn’t be founded on the diktat of one country that deemed itself the representative of the almighty or even higher and based its policies on its perceived exclusivity.”
He scoffed at Western attempts to cap prices for Russian oil and gas, calling the idea “stupid” and saying that Russia will have enough customers in Asia. “The demand is so high on global markets that we won’t have any problem selling it,” he said.
“An attempt to limit prices by administrative means is just ravings, it’s sheer nonsense,” Putin said, adding that “it will only lead to a hike in prices.”
“If they try to implement this dumb decision, it will entail nothing good for those who will make it,” he warned. “Will they make political decisions contradicting contracts? In that case, we will just halt supplies if it contradicts our economic interests. We won’t supply any gas, oil, diesel oil or coal.”
Putin noted that “those who try to enforce something on us aren’t in a position today to dictate their will,” pointing at protests in the West against rising energy prices.
He rejected the EU’s argument that Russia was using energy as a weapon by suspending gas supplies via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Germany.
Putin reaffirmed the Russian argument that Western sanctions have hampered maintenance of the last turbine that remains in operation, forcing its shutdown.
He repeated that Moscow stands ready to “press the button” and start pumping gas “as early as tomorrow” through the Nord Stream 2, which has been put on hold by the German authorities.
Commenting on scores of critical media outlets being forced to shut down after the start of the military campaign in Ukraine following the passage of a new law that criminalized any reporting on military action that differs from the official line, Putin said their reporters were happy to leave the country.
“They were always working against our country while they were here, and now they happily moved out,” he said.
Russia’s top independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, was among the outlets that were forced to shut down under official pressure. On Monday, a court in Moscow upheld a motion from Russian authorities to revoke its license.
Dmitry Muratov, Nobel Peace Prize-winning editor-in-chief of the newspaper, called the ruling on Monday “political” and “not having the slightest legal basis.”
Putin sought to slight Muratov’s prize, describing it as politically driven and, in a side jab, compared it to the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Barack Obama while he was the US president.
“We had business-like relations with President Obama, but what did they give him the Nobel prize for?” Putin said. “What did he do to help protect peace? I mean military operations in some regions of the world the president conducted.”
Commenting on the European Union’s decision to make it harder for Russian citizens to enter the 27-nation bloc, Putin said that Russia won’t respond in kind and will continue to welcome visitors.
“We aren’t going to halt contacts, and those who do it, they isolate themselves and not us,” he said.