In a speech delivered at the annual meeting of the Valdai Debating Club in Moscow, Putin portrayed Russia as a champion of emerging nations in a new multipolar world, which he demanded the United States and other Western powers begin to respect as equals. And in seeking common ground with the right-wing in the West, he described Russia as a defender of traditional Christian values because society has lost its way.
“I am convinced that sooner or later both the new centers of the multipolar world order and the West will have to start an equal conversation about our common future, and of course the sooner the better,” Putin said. He added that he believes the West is losing its dominance and is “fast becoming a minority on the world stage.”
In fact, Russia has become deeply isolated as a result of Putin’s brutal invasion and his attempt to illegally annex four regions of Ukraine in violation of international law. Earlier this month, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly not to recognize Putin’s annexations and called on him to reverse course. The score was 143 to 5 with 35 abstentions. The four countries that joined Russia were Belarus, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria.
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The Kremlin boasted that future generations would “read and re-read” the speech, but on Thursday Putin spoke to a large crowd of guests from India, Pakistan, China and Indonesia, as well as pro-Kremlin politicians from Moldova, who asked him bitter questions. for his vision of a post-conflict, post-American hegemony world. There were few Westerners in the audience.
Despite making his rivalry with the West a cornerstone of his foreign policy and a daily talking point, Putin insisted that Russia does not fundamentally see itself as an enemy of the West, but opposes the West’s attempts to breed “weirds” and “neoliberals.” values in other world societies.
These foreign values, according to Putin, include the “cancellation of culture”, “dozens of gay parades” and the right to express one’s gender identity.
On Thursday, Russia’s lower house of parliament unanimously passed a law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among Russian citizens and imposing heavy fines for mentioning the LGBTQ+ community in public.
“There are at least two Wests,” Putin said. One of them is the West of “traditional, mainly Christian values, freedom, patriotism, richest culture”, to which Russia is close. “But there are other Wests—aggressive, cosmopolitan, neocolonial, those that act as a tool of the neoliberal elite,” he continued. “And Russia, of course, will never accept this Western dictate.”
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In a nearly three-hour speech and question-and-answer session, Putin made several far-reaching claims, including that the West had caused the war in Ukraine.
“Unlike the West, we don’t step into someone else’s backyard,” Putin said, arguing that Moscow does not interfere in other countries’ affairs.
Over the past 15 years, Russia invaded two of its neighbors Ukraine and Georgia, intervened militarily in Syria and spent millions to curry political favor in Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro and other countries.
Putin once again condemned the assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Qassem Soleimani ordered by US President Donald Trump, whom the Pentagon blamed for attacks on US citizens. “They killed Soleimani on the territory of another country and said, ‘yes, we killed him,'” Putin said. “What is it? What kind of world do we live in?”
Russia has been accused of orchestrating attacks on Kremlin critics abroad, from the killing of Chechens in Germany to the poisoning of former secret service agents and defectors in London. Alexei Navalny, Putin’s top critic, is in prison in Russia after surviving a poisoning attack.
“Everything that comes from Russia is always labeled as ‘Kremlin intrigue,'” Putin said. “But look at yourself! Are we that strong? Any criticism of our opponents is perceived as the “hand of the Kremlin”, but you can’t blame everything [us.]”
In recent years, Putin’s government has become increasingly repressive, targeting members of the political opposition, journalists, activists and academics, labeling hundreds as “foreign agents”.
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The panel’s moderator, political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, pressed Putin on whether Moscow is underestimating its opponents in Ukraine, hinting at the battlefield setbacks suffered by the Russian military in recent weeks and the overall pace of the war, which is now in its ninth month despite to the fact that the Kremlin’s initial hopes that it would quickly take Kiev.
“The public does not understand – what is the plan of this operation?” Lukyanov went on to point to growing discontent with Moscow’s military strategy and an unpopular mobilization effort that has conscripted 300,000 or more, while nearly hundreds of thousands more have left the country to avoid being sent into battle.
Putin rejected this criticism. He said that the balance on the battlefield would have been worse for Russia in the future, given the Western arms supplies to Ukraine and the “construction of fortified areas”.
Putin also repeated Russia’s baseless claims that Ukraine was preparing to use a “dirty bomb” containing radioactive material. Western leaders have dismissed the allegation as false and a potential pretext for Russia to escalate the war by using such a weapon itself.
In past statements, Putin has often said he is prepared to use “all available means”, referring to Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal, but he insisted on Thursday that Russia has never openly threatened to use nuclear weapons and has no need to do so in Ukraine.
In Kiev, Putin repeated his false accusations of state-sponsored “Nazism” and insisted that the US could end the war. “Those who implement policy in Washington can solve the Ukraine problem very quickly through diplomacy,” he said. “They just need to send a signal to Kiev to change their attitude and push for peace talks.”