MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin called Friday for the “normalization” of relations with other states, saying Moscow has “absolutely no ill intentions with regard to our neighbors.”
“I think that everyone should think about normalizing relations and cooperating normally,” he said.
He said Russia saw no need to aggravate tensions with other countries, claiming that Moscow’s actions in Ukraine came only “in response to unfriendly actions toward Russia.”
“There is no need to escalate the situation, impose restrictions. We fulfill all obligations,” he said. “If someone does not want to cooperate with us within the framework of single cooperation, and by doing so harms themselves, they will, of course, harm us, too.”
The United States and countries around the world have imposed historic, wide-ranging sanctions on Russia in hopes of isolating the country and pressuring Putin to abandon the war. Even after the White House and Treasury Department, aiming to punish the financial elite close to Putin, announced an expansion of the number of Russian oligarchs subject to U.S. sanctions, Putin claimed Friday that his country would resolve the problem caused by sanctions. He even argued that Russia would benefit by developing new skills.
“We will just have to move some projects a little to the right, to acquire additional competencies. But we will still solve the problems that we face,” he said. “In the end, we will even benefit from this because we will acquire additional competencies.”
Putin’s comments came hours after a Russian projectile hit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine overnight, igniting a fire that caused widespread alarm but triggered no release of radioactive material. After Russia seized control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv on Friday accused Russia of committing “a war crime” with the attack. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has repeated his call for direct talks with Putin to end the invasion, is urging a no-fly zone over Ukraine after an attack he claimed could have been as bad as “six Chernobyls.”
World leaders have stepped up enforcement of the extensive sanctions against Russia in recent days. The Russian economy in particular is feeling the sting of the international community’s actions. The value of the ruble plummeted to less than 1 U.S. cent this week, and the Russian government is still unable to tap into a large portion of its $640 billion in central bank reserves, a lifeline that would skirt the impact of global sanctions. And several U.S. lawmakers have started to coalesce around a potential import ban targeting Russian oil — an idea that has attracted early support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Some of that pressure has been directed toward Russian oligarchs around the world. President Biden vowed this week that the United States would punish the oligarchs and “seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets.” The National Security Council on Thursday announced new sanctions against eight Russian oligarchs and their families, including Putin ally Alisher Usmanov, whose properties are prohibited from being used in the United States and by Americans.
“We want him to feel the squeeze,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of Putin at her Thursday news briefing as she described the president’s strategy. “We want people around him to feel the squeeze.”
But the comprehensive sanctions have not deterred Putin and Russian forces from their widespread attacks across Ukraine. The United Nations refugee agency said that more than 1 million people have fled Ukraine and that at least 249 civilians have been killed, though the true toll is probably “considerably higher” because of the difficulty of conducting accurate counts in war zones. Putin’s defiance in negotiations with Ukraine has left leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron convinced that “the worst is yet to come” in the invasion.
Before the attack on the nuclear power plant, Zelensky on Thursday repeated his request to speak directly with Putin, who has rebuffed the Ukrainian president’s demands. Speaking at his first news conference since the invasion began, Zelensky said the request was made even though he is living through “a nightmare” and “cannot even imagine the type of man who would plan such acts.”
“It’s not that I want to talk to Putin. I need to talk to Putin. The world needs to talk to Putin,” Zelensky said. “There is no other way to stop this war.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Putin has played a direct role in command decisions on particular operations in the war. Peskov added that if the aim of the Western sanctions was to change Russia’s position, they would fail.
Peskov also responded to a Thursday night tweet by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who called “for somebody in Russia to take this guy out,” in an apparent reference to Putin. Graham has been met with bipartisan blowback from Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Democrats such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.).
Peskov said Graham’s tweet reflected a “hysterical, extreme pressure of a Russophobic outburst” at a time of such global tension.
“Of course, these days not everyone manages to keep a sober mind, and sanity of mind,” he said. “Many, unfortunately, are going crazy.”
Bella reported from Washington. Maxine Joselow, Tony Romm and Rachel Siegel contributed to this report.