Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the war in Ukraine during a combative Saint Petersburg speech on Friday, while also saying his country would continue to expand economic cooperation "with those who want to."
Russia's invasion of Ukraine 'forced but necessary,' Putin says
During an address at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin was unapologetic regarding what Russia terms its "special military operation" in Ukraine.
"In the current situation, against a backdrop of increasing risks for us and threats, Russia's decision to conduct a special military operation was forced — difficult, of course, but forced and necessary," Putin said of the invasion, which began in February.
He repeated his claim that the invasion was primarily intended to "defend" Russian-speaking people in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.
Ukraine and much of the world counter that the Russian invasion is a lethal violation of international law, which aims to unsettle its neighbor, topple an elected president, and scare other former Soviet-era satellites away from seeking further integration with organizations like the EU or NATO.
'Russia's Davos' rival missing international participants amid war
The event in St. Petersburg, Putin's hometown and the site of his first senior posting as a politician rather than an intelligence agent, is designed to be Russia's answer to the World Economic Forum in Davos. However, the western companies and investors that turned up in previous years were conspicuously absent amid the war in Ukraine.
Putin also lashed out at Western sanctions in response to Russia's assault on its neighbor.
"The economic blitzkrieg had no chance of success from the very beginning," Putin said. "We are strong people and we can cope with any challenge."
He said Russia would continue its path forward as an "open economy," while also calling on Russian firms to invest at home. He believes that companies that have left Russia, such as McDonald's and Microsoft, will be replaced.
"We're normalizing the economic situation. We stabilized the financial markets, the banking system, the trade system," Putin said.
Rapidly rising prices of some of Russia's core exports like fossil fuels and food have helped the country weather the economic storm, after western sanctions put severe pressure on the Russian economy in the early weeks of the war. Nevertheless, Putin did acknowledge that the current projected 16.7% annual inflation rate for the year was too high.
Meanwhile, Juri Rescheto of DW's Russian service pointed out that Putin's speech to economic delegates was also an exercise in damage limitation amid severe upheaval, particularly for Russian businesses seeking to operate globally.
"Russia has never been punished with so many and such hard economic sanctions as this year. Never before have so many foreign companies left Russia — we are talking about more than 1,000. And because of this, Russia is looking toward the future with great concern and trying depserately to reorientate its entire economy," Rescheto said, adding that the address "sounds very much like a speech aimed at the local audience in Russia."
Putin deflects blame on rising food prices
The Russian leader also commented on rising global grain prices, threatening a food crisis in regions such as Africa and the Middle East.
He repeated Russia's claim that Ukraine had placed mines around its ports, curbing grain exports. Putin also said Ukraine grain deliveries were insignificant for the global economy.
Putin said the US and EU were printing money and "snapping up" food on global markets, saying Moscow would boost exports of grain and fertilizers to the developing world.
Most western central banks including the US Federal Reserve and the eurozone's ECB are in fact currently in the process of halting their longstanding so-called "quantitative easing" policies, which amount to printing electronic money, in response to rising inflation and in the hope that doing so slows the process.
Shortly before Putin was due to speak, the Kremlin said the forum's accreditation and was targeted by a "denial of service" (DDOS) cyberattack, delaying the Russian leader's speech by roughly an hour.
wd/msh (Reuters, dpa)