Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sought to fuel anti-American sentiment in Europe and around the world, again lashed out at the United States on Friday, calling it a fading power that treats its allies like colonies, saying the West falsely blamed his economic woes on the war in Ukraine.
“We all hear about so-called Putin inflation in the West,” Putin said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an annual business conference once known as “Russia’s Davos,” appearing to refer to the efforts of the U.S. President Joe Biden to blame Russia. aggression for what he calls a “Putin price hike” that hurts American consumers.
“When I see this, I always think: Who is this for, this stupidity?” said Putin. “For someone who can’t read or write.”
Putin spoke when the European Commission on Friday formally recommended granting Ukraine candidate status to join the European Union, the first step on a long and arduous road that may not have an immediate impact on the war, but the country a symbolic moral boost.
The commission, the EU’s executive branch, also recommended candidate status for Moldova – which applied for membership shortly after Ukraine, spurred on by concerns over Russian threats to the region – but not for neighboring Georgia, which was not deemed ready. for the EU candidacy.
“We all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, who opened the meeting of EU commissioners in Brussels on Friday wearing a blue shirt and yellow blazer, the national colors of Ukraine. “We want them to live the European dream with us.”
Ukraine’s accession to the bloc could take years. The European Commission has made Ukraine’s candidate country subject to several revisions to the country’s legal system and government. Even in the fight against the Russian army, Ukraine will have to guarantee an independent judiciary, eradicate high-level corruption, pass laws on the media, limit the influence of oligarchs and enact money laundering and minority protection laws. should improve, the committee said.
In some ways the war seems to have eased these tasks. The status of the oligarchs has plummeted as some have fled and others have lost assets and income in the fighting, while the economy has become more dependent on foreign aid than on oligarch-dominated exports of goods. The security forces — once partially controlled behind the scenes by these business titans — have cemented their position as institutions that defend the country as a whole, not corporate interests.
In other ways, the war has created new obstacles to Ukraine’s European aspirations beyond the obvious threat of the country being conquered by Russia. Under martial law, opposition television stations were barred from a national cable system. If the war and martial law continue for months or years, it is unlikely that regularly scheduled elections will be held.
“The government only deserves applause” for winning Ukraine’s long-sought acceptance as a candidate for EU membership, Volodymyr Ariyev, a member of Ukraine’s parliament in the opposition European Solidarity party, said in an interview. “But we must maintain our development in a democratic way, otherwise we could lose our candidate status.”
The final decision to make Moldova and Ukraine formal candidates for EU membership will be taken by EU leaders in Brussels next week. The commission said it would review Ukraine’s progress by the end of the year.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the commission’s recommendation and said it would help his country avert Russia. “It is the first step on the EU membership path that will certainly bring our victory closer,” he wrote on Twitter.
Putin’s comments to the economic forum were delayed more than an hour after the Kremlin called “large-scale” distributed denial-of-service cyber attacks on the conference’s computer systems. The cyber attack came after Ukraine’s IT military, a “hacktivist” group behind previous attacks on Russian websites, flagged the event as a target.
Putin appeared on stage for more than three hours, in his most extensive public appearance since ordering the invasion of Ukraine in February. But he did little to clarify his war goals, repeating his descriptions of Ukrainian territory as historically belonging to Russia, while avoiding the even more hostile rhetoric of other Russian officials.
“Only the people who live there will determine their future,” Putin said of the territory in eastern Ukraine that Russia occupies, leaving open the question of whether he will try to annex it. “And we will respect every choice they make.”
Ukrainian officials have vehemently rejected the legitimacy of alleged referendums organized by the Kremlin and its proxies.
In the past, the CEOs of leading Western companies flocked to the conference in St. Petersburg, but this year there were few guests from Europe and the United States. Instead, it was a small delegation from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that made headlines in Russian news media, while leaders of Egypt and China recorded video greetings played during the plenary session following Putin’s speech.
But even during the session, which was intended to underline Russia’s global connections despite its Western isolation, the limits of his friendships became clear. Putin shared the stage with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that has been a close ally of Russia but has said it will not violate Western sanctions against Russia.
When asked about his stance on what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, Tokayev chose his words carefully and declined to offer any support. He said that, as with Georgia’s Russian-backed breakaway enclaves, Kazakhstan would not recognize the “quasi-state areas” that Russia supports in eastern Ukraine.
Putin, relaxed and often smiling, looked nothing like a wartime president. Instead, he focused on the economy, alternating with the idea that Russia could easily replace Western imports and investment, and the claim that Russians could do without such conveniences for a while.
When the session’s host, Russian state television executive Margarita Simonyan, offered Putin a Russian juice box that was white due to a shortage of imported ink, he said such details should be the people’s least concern.
“What is most important to us?” asked Putin. “To be independent and sovereign and to ensure our future development now for the next generations? Or pack today?”
Putin spent most of the session pushing through the idea that Russia could still thrive despite Western sanctions. He promised environmental and regulatory reforms, such as less frequent incarceration of businessmen by corrupt officials, and government initiatives to support Russian companies.
“Russia is entering the approaching era as a powerful, sovereign country,” Putin said. “We will certainly take advantage of the new, colossal opportunities that this era opens for us and will become even stronger.”
As for the EU’s sanctions against Russia, Putin claimed the bloc acted on Washington’s orders, despite the ramifications for its own economy. “The European Union has completely lost its political sovereignty,” Putin said.
But he said Russia wouldn’t mind Ukraine joining the bloc. The EU is “not a military organization” like NATO, he said, and it is “the sovereign decision of each country” whether or not to join.
“We were never against this – we were always against military expansion into Ukrainian territory because it threatens our security,” Putin said. “But as for economic integration, please, for God’s sake, it’s their choice.”
In fact, Russia opposed a trade deal with the EU that Ukraine negotiated in 2013. Ukraine then withdrew from the pending deal under Russian pressure, a move that sparked the country’s pro-Western uprising the following year.
In a surprise move intended to show further solidarity with Ukraine, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his second visit to the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Friday, a day after leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Romania met there.
Having recently survived a vote of no confidence among his own lawmakers, Johnson may have hoped the visit would boost his popularity. He promised a new aid package with the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days.
Britain, Johnson said at a news conference, would help the Ukrainian military “do what I think the Ukrainians desire to do, which is drive the aggressor out of Ukraine.”