Putin rages against the West, defends the invasion of Ukraine with a speech

R:US President Vladimir Putin accused Western countries of starting and maintaining the war in Ukraine on Tuesday, rejecting any blame for Moscow, nearly a year after the Kremlin’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbor left tens of thousands dead.

In his long-delayed address to the nation, Putin portrayed Russia and Ukraine as victims of Western double-dealing and said it was Russia that was fighting for its existence, not Ukraine.

“We are not fighting against the Ukrainian people,” Putin said in a speech on Friday, days before the first anniversary of the war. Ukraine “has become a hostage of the Kiev regime and its Western masters, who have effectively occupied the country.”

The speech echoed a series of grievances that the Russian leader has often offered as justification for the widely condemned war and ignoring international demands to withdraw from Ukraine’s occupied territories.

Observers are expected to scrutinize it for signs of how Putin sees the conflict, which has become tangled, and what tone he might set for the coming year. Russia’s leader has vowed no military concessions in the Ukrainian territories he illegally annexed, apparently rejecting any peace offer in a conflict that has reignited fears of a new Cold War.

Instead, he offered his own personalized version of recent history that dismissed the Ukrainian government’s arguments that it needed Western help to disrupt Russian military control.

“The Western elites are not trying to hide their goals, to cause a “strategic defeat” to Russia,” Putin said, speaking on all state television channels. “They intend to turn the local conflict into a global confrontation.”

He added that Russia is ready to answer it, because “it will be the question of the existence of our country”.

While the Constitution mandates that the president give a speech every year, Putin has never said so in 2022 as his troops have turned to Ukraine and suffered repeated setbacks.

Before the speech, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader would focus on the “special military operation” in Ukraine, as Moscow calls it, and Russia’s economy and social problems. Many observers predicted it would also affect Moscow’s influence with the West, and Putin began with harsh words for those countries.

“They are the ones who started the war. And we’re using force to end it,” Putin told an audience of lawmakers, government officials and military personnel embattled in Ukraine.

Putin has accused the West of conducting “aggressive information attacks” and targeting Russian culture, religion and values, as he recognizes that “Russia cannot be defeated on the battlefield.”

He also accused Western countries of attacking Russia’s economy with sanctions, but stated that they “have not achieved anything and will not achieve anything”.

Underscoring the early anticipation, some state TV channels played a countdown to the event starting on Monday, and Russia’s state news agency said on Tuesday morning that the speech could be “historic”.

The Kremlin has banned media from “unfriendly” countries this year, including the US, UK and EU members. Peskov said that journalists from those countries will be able to cover the speech by watching the broadcast.

Peskov told reporters that the delay in the speech was due to Putin’s “work schedule,” but Russian media reports linked it to multiple setbacks suffered by Russian forces on the battlefield in Ukraine.

The President of the Russian Federation previously postponed his speech. In 2017, the performance was postponed to early 2018.

The Kremlin also canceled two other big annual events last year: Putin’s press conference and a highly scripted phone-in marathon where people ask the president questions.

Analysts expected Putin’s speech to be tough after US President Joe Biden’s visit to Kiev on Monday. Biden is scheduled to speak later Tuesday in Poland, where he is expected to highlight the central European country’s and other allies’ commitment to Ukraine over the past year.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that Biden’s speech will not “sort of coincide” with Putin’s speech.

“This is not a rhetorical contest with someone else,” he said.

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