Russian President Vladimir Putin recited familiar grievances and criticisms of the hegemonic “Western elite” while offering an ideological pitch to Asian leaders and to conservative groups in the United States and Europe during a keynote foreign policy speech on Thursday.
In the speech, delivered to the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Moscow, Putin portrayed Russia as a champion of rising nations in a new multipolar world, which he demanded that the United States and other Western powers begin to respect as equals. And seeking common ground with the right-wing in the West, he described Russia as a defender of traditional Christian values as society has lost its way.
“I am convinced that sooner or later both the new centers of a multipolar world order and the West will have to start an equal conversation about a common future for us, and the sooner the better, of course,” Putin said. He added that he believed the West was losing its dominance and “quickly becoming a minority on the world stage.”
In reality, it is Russia that has grown 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 calling on him to reverse course. The results were 143 to 5 with 35 abstentions. The four countries to side with Russia were Belarus, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria.
The Kremlin boasted that future generations “will read and reread” the speech, but on Thursday, Putin spoke to an assorted crowd of guests from India, Pakistan, China and Indonesia as well as fringe pro-Kremlin politicians from Moldova who asked him fawning questions about his vision for the post-conflict, post-American hegemony world. There were few Westerners in the audience.
Despite making the rivalry with the West a cornerstone of his foreign policy and his every day talking points, Putin insisted that Russia does not fundamentally see itself as the enemy of the West but instead opposes the West’s attempts to instill “strange” and “neoliberal” values in other societies in the world.
These alien values, according to Putin, include “cancel culture,” “dozens of gay parades” and the right to express one’s gender identity.
On Thursday, Russia’s lower house of parliament unanimously adopted a law that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” among Russian citizens and imposes heavy fines for mentioning the LGBTQ+ community in public.
“There are at the very least two Wests,” Putin said. One is the West of “traditional, primarily Christian, values, freedom, patriotism, the richest culture” that Russia is close to. “But there is another West — aggressive, cosmopolitan, neocolonial, the one acting as a tool of the neoliberal elites,” he continued. “And Russia, of course, will never put up with precisely the dictate of this West.”
In the nearly three-hour speech and question-and-answer session, Putin made a number of far-fetched claims, including that the West instigated the war in Ukraine.
“Unlike the West, we do not climb into someone else’s yard,” Putin said, asserting that Moscow doesn’t interfere in the affairs of other states.
In the past 15 years, Russia invaded two of its neighbors, Ukraine and Georgia, interceded militarily in Syria, and spent millions to curry political favor in Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro and other countries.
Putin once again decried U.S. President Donald Trump’s ordered assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a top general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, whom the Pentagon blamed for attacks on U.S. citizens. “They killed Soleimani on the territory of another state and said: ‘yes, we killed him,’ ” Putin said. “What is that? What world are we living in?”
Russia has been accused of organizing attacks on several Kremlin critics abroad, from assassinations of Chechens in Germany to poisonings of former secret services agents and defectors in London. Putin’s top critic, Alexei Navalny, is imprisoned in Russia after surviving a poisoning attack.
“Whatever comes from Russia is always labeled as ‘intrigues of the Kremlin,’ ” Putin said. “But look at yourself! Are we that powerful? Any criticism of our opponents is perceived as ‘the hand of the Kremlin,’ but you can’t just blame everything on [us.]”
In recent years, Putin’s government has grown increasingly repressive, cracking down on political opposition figures, journalists, activists and scholars — labeling hundreds as “foreign agents.”
The panel moderator, political analyst Fedor Lukyanov, pressed Putin on whether Moscow underestimated its opponents in Ukraine, an implicit reference to battlefield setbacks suffered by the Russian army in recent weeks and the overall pace of the war that is now entering its ninth month despite the initial Kremlin expectation that it would quickly capture Kyiv.
“The society doesn’t understand — what’s the plan in this operation?” Lukyanov continued, alluding to the brewing discontent with Moscow’s military strategy and an unpopular mobilization drive that has conscripted 300,000 or more but sent nearly hundreds of thousands more fleeing the country to avoid being sent to fight.
Putin dismissed the criticism. He said the balance on the battlefield would have been worse for Russia in the future given Western supplies of weapons to Ukraine and “the construction of fortified areas.”
Putin also repeated Russia’s unsupported claims that Ukraine was preparing to use a “dirty bomb” containing radioactive material. Western leaders have dismissed this accusation as false and a potential pretext for Russia to escalate the war by its own use of such a weapon.
In previous remarks, Putin has often said that he is prepared to use “all available means,” hinting at Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal, but he insisted Thursday that Russia never openly threatened to use nuclear weapons and had no need to do so in Ukraine.
Putin repeated his false accusations of state-sponsored “Nazism” in Kyiv, and he insisted the United States could end the war. “Those who implement the policy in Washington can solve the problem of Ukraine very quickly through diplomacy,” he said. “They only need to send a signal to Kyiv to change the attitude and strive to peace talks.”
Natalia Abbakumova and Robyn Dixon in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.
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