MOSCOW — Making clear that the Kremlin has no intention of backing down from the worst Russia-Western crisis since the Cold War, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States on Friday of trying to “reshape the whole world” for its benefit, in a fiery speech that was one of the most anti-American of his 15 years as Russia’s paramount leader.
Seven months into a conflict over Ukraine that has seen at least 3,400 people killed, Putin predicted that the clash would not be the last to pit Russia and the United States against each other, excoriating the White House for imposing sanctions against his nation that he said were simply aimed at forcing Russia into submission.
In nationally broadcast remarks that lasted nearly three hours, Putin gave no hint of concessions to Western consternation over Russia’s role in Ukraine, where Putin first pressured former president Viktor Yanukovych over his plans to sign a European-friendly trade deal, annexed the Crimean Peninsula after pro-European protesters forced Yanukovych’s ouster and then helped fuel a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
Russia “is not asking anyone for permission” in its conduct of world affairs, Putin said.
Although there was little new substance in the angry address, it was a bitter distillation of Putin’s anti-American rhetoric at an annual forum originally intended to put a Western-friendly spin on Russia’s image. Putin speaks every year before the Valdai Club, a gathering of Western and Russian analysts, journalists and officials, some of whom are critical of the Kremlin. This year’s meeting was held in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
In the past, Putin has used the forum to offer olive branches to those critics. Last year, he took questions from opposition lawmakers a day after his aides had offered them political concessions. Sometimes he has also made jokes.
This year’s speech and question-and-answer session contained none of that image-polishing. Instead, Putin delivered an unsmiling, straightforward worldview that blasted the United States as taking advantage of its powerful post-Cold War position to dictate misguided terms to the rest of the world. Putin faulted the United States for a rise in global terrorism, a resumption of a global arms race and a general worsening of global security.
“It never ceases to amaze me how our partners have been guilty of making the same mistakes time and again,” Putin said, accusing the United States of breeding terrorists by upsetting the established order in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.
One participant said that he was left with the impression that the ouster of Yanukovych in Ukraine — a nation with deep historical and cultural ties to Russia — was the final straw that unleashed years of anti-Western anger.
“It was an emotional broadside against U.S. foreign policy,” said one participant, Cliff Kupchan, a longtime Russia analyst who is chairman of the Eurasia Group, a New York-based political and business consultancy.
“If this is a turning point,” Kupchan said, “we’re going from bad to worse.”
Kupchan said that other meetings with Russian officials over the closed three-day conference left little optimism for a durable peace in Ukraine, where a Sept. 5 cease-fire has frequently been broken. He said that officials at the meeting saw Cyprus and Bosnia as models for handling Ukraine’s divisions. Neither is an exemplar of comity between ethnic groups.
Russian officials also said that they still will not tolerate Ukraine’s establishing stronger ties with the European Union, suggesting that a 15-month delay in the effective date of a landmark trade deal simply delays yet another confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, Kupchan said.
Putin offered brief praise to recent instances of Russia-Western partnership, such as removing Syria’s chemical weapons and the ongoing multilateral negotiations to halt Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs. But that was just a brief moment in a long anti-Western diatribe.
The real audience may not have been the assembled Valdai elite but Putin’s domestic electorate, which thrives on his delivering powerful and angry messages to the West, said Vladimir Frolov, a Moscow-based foreign policy expert and former diplomat.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday that “the United States does not seek confrontation with Russia, but we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which security in Europe and North America rest.”
“Our focus is on continuing to engage with Russia on areas of mutual concern,” she said.
Birnbaum reported from Lviv, Ukraine.