In an angry, conspiratorial address Friday, amid grand fanfare, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the Kremlin’s justification for Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian territories, presenting an anti-Western worldview that accused “Anglo-Saxons” of neocolonialism and sabotage.
“People have made their choice, an unambiguous choice,” Putin said.
The staged plebiscites came amid condemnation by world leaders and a Ukrainian military push that means Russia does not control all of the regions it now claims as it own.
Here are seven key points and accusations from the speech.
1. Russia will never give up annexed regions.
Putin vowed to welcome the citizens of the Ukrainian regions to Russia but suggested that Moscow would never give up the annexed areas.
“I want the Kyiv authorities and their real masters in the West to hear me, so that they remember this. People living in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens. Forever,” he said.
Putin also said he was justified in accepting the territory as the first article of the United Nations’ founding charter allows for self-determination.
Russia has annexed Ukrainian territory before; in 2014, it took control of Crimea after a similar staged referendum. However, most of the international community still considers the peninsula part of Ukraine, and Kyiv has pledged to regain control of it.
2. Ukraine must give in.
Putin demanded that Ukrainian authorities begin peace talks, telling the “Kyiv regime to immediately end hostilities, end the war that they unleashed back in 2014 and return to the negotiating table. We are ready for this.”
Ukraine has consistently demanded that Russian forces give up any land seized after the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, as well as Crimea, as a condition of peace talks. Speaking at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia needed to be punished for its actions.
“A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand punishment,” said Zelensky, who appeared at the top diplomatic gathering via video.
3. The West is trying to destroy Russia.
Though the annexation of Ukrainian states was the subject of the speech, much of its running time focused on attacking the West — and the United States in particular. The Russian president repeated many of his most conspiratorial views included in the “golden billion” theory.
Putin accused the West of creating a “neocolonial system” aimed specifically at destroying Russia, later arguing that the West had been “drowned in an ocean of fakes” and that its leaders lie like Joseph Goebbels, the chief propagandist of Nazi Germany.
“It is worth reminding the West that it began its colonial policy back in the Middle Ages, and then followed the global slave trade, the genocide of Indian tribes in America, the plunder of India, Africa, the wars of England and France against China, as a result of which it was forced to open its ports for trade of opium,” Putin said.
“I emphasize that one of the reasons for the centuries-old Russophobia, the undisguised malice of these Western elites toward Russia is precisely that we did not allow ourselves to be robbed during the period of colonial conquests. We forced the Europeans to trade for mutual benefit,” he said.
4. The United States, not Russia, poses a nuclear threat.
Russian officials have repeatedly made thinly veiled references to nuclear weapons during the war in Ukraine, with Putin himself suggesting last week that the Kremlin would “use all the means at our disposal” to protect Russian territory — which in Putin’s eyes may now include the annexed Ukrainian regions.
But Putin said Friday that it was the United States that posed a nuclear threat to the world, referencing the use of nuclear weapons against Japanese cities during World War II.
“The U.S. is the only country in the world to ever use atomic weapons. They destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the way, that created a precedent,” Putin said.
“Let me also remind you that the United States, together with the British, turned Dresden, Hamburg, Cologne and many other German cities into ruins without any military necessity during World War II. And this was done defiantly, without any, I repeat, military necessity. There was only one goal, just as in the case of the nuclear bombings in Japan: to intimidate both our country and the whole world,” he said.
5. ‘Anglo-Saxons’ sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines.
“Sanctions are not enough for the Anglo-Saxons; they have switched to sabotage. In fact, they have begun to destroy the Pan-European infrastructure,” Putin said, appearing to refer to damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.
The pipelines, built to carry Russian natural gas to Europe, were damaged by dual explosions off the coast of Denmark on Tuesday. Some European officials have privately blamed the Kremlin for the blasts, arguing that only Russia had a clear motive for such an attack.
The Russian government has denied responsibility for the blasts.
6. Russia will never recognize LGBT rights.
In another detour, Putin railed against gay rights in the West and suggested that Russia would never follow the same path.
“Do we want children from elementary school to be imposed with things that lead to degradation and extinction? Do we want them to be taught that instead of men and women, there are supposedly some other genders and to be offered sex-change surgeries? This is unacceptable to us; we have a different future,” Putin said.
Under Putin, Russia has passed several laws that target the LGBT community, including a “gay propaganda” law that drew widespread international criticism.
7. In the words of Ivan Ilyin, Russia’s ‘destiny is my destiny.’
At the end of the speech, Putin quoted Ivan Ilyin, an anti-Communist theoretician who was exiled to Switzerland.
“And if I consider my homeland to be Russia, it means that in the Russian way I love, contemplate and think, in the Russian way I sing and speak; that I believe in the spiritual forces of the Russian people and accept its historical destiny with my instinct and my will. Its spirit is my spirit; its destiny is my destiny; its suffering is my grief; its flourishing is my joy,” Putin said in concluding his speech.
Historians often refer to Ilyin as a fascist. He is known for an idiosyncratic worldview that combined more-traditional Christian and monarchist views with conspiracy theories and quasi-mystical views of the power of leaders.
As Putin ended his speech, he signed “accession treaties” to absorb the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, as did Moscow’s proxy leaders for the regions.
To cheers, the leaders held hands and chanted:
“Russia! Russia! Russia!”
Natalya Abbakumova and Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report.
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