Vladimir Putin used a meeting with foreign journalists and Russia experts to rail against the United States and the current world order, blaming Washington for many current global problems, including unrest in Ukraine and Islamic terrorism.
Putin said that over the past two decades, the US had behaved as if it were someone “nouveau riche who had suddenly received a lot of wealth – in this case, global leadership”. Instead of using its powers wisely, said Putin, the US had created a unilateral and unfair system.
The Russian president’s sentiments were nothing new, but appeared to be a more concise and concentrated version of his grievances at a time when relations between Russia and the west are more strained than at any period since the cold war.
In a terse opening statement before taking questions for nearly three hours, Putin said: “The exceptionalism of the United States, the way they implement their leadership, is it really a benefit? And their worldwide intervention brings peace and stability, progress and peak of democracy? Maybe we should relax and enjoy this splendour? No!”
Putin was speaking at the final session of the Valdai Club, a loose group of foreign analysts and Russia experts that meets annually. This year, the session took place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. “Unilateral dictatorship and obtrusion of the patterns leads to opposite result. Instead of conflicts settlement – their escalation. Instead of sovereign, stable states – growing chaos. Instead of democracy – support for very dubious people, such as neo-Nazis and Islamic extremists,” he said.
Putin did not face many tough questions from the assembled audience. Peter Lavelle, a presenter on the Kremlin’s Russia Today television channel took the opportunity to tell the president that he is “the most popular man in modern history” and in much of the world is “looked upon as a saviour of sorts”.
The president denied claims that Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine had been aggressive: “Statements that Russia is trying to reinstate some sort of empire, that it is encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbours, are groundless,” he said.
However, when one British newspaper reporter asked him specifically about the repeated reports of Russian army troops operating in east Ukraine, Putin chose to ignore the question completely.
There was no opportunity for follow-up questions. Instead, he focused on violence by Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev has been battlingpro-Russian separatists aided by Russian troops the Kremlin has repeatedly denied are there. “We don’t see a desire from our partners in Kiev... to solve the problem of relations with the south-east of the country through a political process, with talks,” said Putin. “We always see one and the same thing in different manifestations: to suppress by force.”
Putin was also asked about a remark by a top aide on the previous day of the forum that “if there is no Putin there is no Russia”. Vyacheslav Volodin said any attack on the Russian president should be considered to be an attack on Russia itself. Putin said he believed Russia could survive without him, but said he did not think he could survive without Russia: “Russia is everything to me, that is definitely a fact. I could not imagine myself separated from Russia for a single second.”
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