Putin accuses West of stoking global war to destroy Russia
President Vladimir Putin's state of the nation address comes ahead of the first anniversary of Russia's offensive in Ukraine.
MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday (Feb 21) vowed to continue with Russia's year-long war in Ukraine and accused the US-led NATO alliance of fanning the flames of the conflict in the mistaken belief that it could defeat Moscow in a global confrontation.
Speaking nearly a year to the day since ordering an invasion that has triggered the biggest confrontation with the West since the depths of the Cold War, Putin said Russia would "consistently resolve the tasks facing" it in Ukraine.
Flanked by four Russian tricolour flags either side, Putin told Russia's political and military elite that Russia was tilting towards Asia after the West slapped on the most severe sanctions in modern history.
Besides the promise to continue the war and warnings to the West of a global confrontation, Putin also sought to justify the war, saying it had been forced on Russia and that he understood the pain of the families of those who had fallen in battle.
The West and would-be NATO member Ukraine reject that narrative, and say NATO expansion eastwards, with Finland and Sweden also applying to join, is no justification for what they say is an imperial-style land grab doomed to failure.
"The people of Ukraine have become the hostage of the Kyiv regime and its Western overlords, who have effectively occupied this country in the political, military and economic sense," Putin said.
"They intend to transform a local conflict into a phase of global confrontation. This is exactly how we understand it all and we will react accordingly, because in this case we are talking about the existence of our country."
Defeating Russia, he said, was impossible.
The 70-year-old Kremlin chief said Russia would never yield to Western attempts to divide its society, adding that a majority of Russians supported the war.
Polling by the Levada Centre indicates around 75 per cent of Russians support the Russian actions in Ukraine, while 19 per cent do not and 6 per cent don't know. Three-quarters of Russians expect Russia to be victorious. Many diplomats and analysts doubt the figures.
When he spoke about the annexation of four Ukrainian territories last year, Putin got a standing ovation at the Gostiny Dvor exhibition centre just a few steps from the Kremlin.
He asked the audience, which included lawmakers, soldiers, spy chiefs and state company bosses, to stand to remember those who had lost their lives in the war. He promised a special fund for the families of the victims.
The Ukraine conflict is by far the biggest bet by a Kremlin chief since at least the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union - and a gamble Western leaders such as US President Joe Biden say he must lose.
Russian forces have suffered three major battlefield reversals since the war began but still control around one fifth of Ukraine. Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner group of Russian fighters, said on Tuesday his fighters had been deprived of munitions.
Tens of thousands of men have been killed, and Putin now says Russia is locked in an existential battle with an arrogant West which he says wants to carve up Russia and steal its vast natural resources.
With the West supporting Ukraine, China's position has come under scrutiny in recent weeks.
China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, is due to visit in Moscow on Tuesday and may possibly meet Putin, as the United States says it is concerned Beijing may be considering supplying weapons to Russia.
Chinese weapons supplies to Russia would risk a potential escalation of the Ukraine war into a confrontation between Russia and China on the one side and Ukraine and the US-led NATO military alliance on the other.
TILT TO ASIA?
Putin, who was handed the presidency on the last day of 1999 by Boris Yeltsin, said the West had failed to destroy the Russian economy with the severest sanctions in modern history.
"They want to make the people suffer ... but their calculation did not materialise. The Russian economy and the management turned out to be much stronger than they thought," Putin said.
Russia's US$2.1 trillion economy is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to grow 0.3 per cent this year, far below China and India's growth rates but a much better result than was forecast when the war began.
Russia since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, Putin said, had been oriented on the West, quipping about how no ordinary Russians shed tears over the loss of yachts and property in the West by rich Russians.
Russia now, he said, was turning away from the "wolfish" habits of the West towards Asia and towards building its own economy based on what he cast as Russia's own distinctive civilisation.
"Launch new projects, earn money, invest in Russia," Putin said, adding that he hoped such words would be enough to convince which direction Russian business of the path they should take.