MOSCOW — A defiant Vladimir Putin declared today that the U.S.-led world order “has failed.” Speaking to business leaders a at a forum in St Petersburg, the Russian president railed against U.S. sanctions and dismissed allegations that Russia is meddling in Ukraine, which he said was in the midst of “civil war” thanks to the West. He also rejected accusations by President Obama in unusually pointed terms.
The Russian president was addressing the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russia’s answer to World Economic Forum in Davos. This year fewer Western executives were in attendance after the White House leaned on them not to attend as the Obama administration seeks to isolate Russia over its policy in Ukraine and Crimea.
He urged investors “not to give in to pressure and blackmail” as the West tries to isolate Russia.
ON PRESIDENT OBAMA:
When asked by a moderator about President Obama’s accusations that the Kremlin was lying when it claims it is not meddling in Ukraine, President Putin brushed aside the very notion with sarcasm.
“Who made him a judge?” he bristled, though he quickly added that he thinks Obama has a better opinion of him than was suggested.
ON EDWARD SNOWDEN:
Putin dismissed allegations that American intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, who received asylum in Russia last year after being stranded in a Moscow airport for weeks, was a Russian spy.
“He’s not an agent of ours. He hasn’t given us any secrets. He hasn’t leaked anything,” Putin said.
ON US-RUSSIA RELATIONS:
Putin blamed the failure of the “reset” in U.S.-Russia relations on “unilateral moves” by the Obama administration.
“We didn’t damage these relations. Despite the harsh rhetoric and contradictory approaches, we continue cooperation,” he said.
“We are not going to engage in self-isolation,” Putin added. “But you cannot force someone to love you.”
Putin says that Ukraine is in the midst of a “civil war.” He said it was not a “revolution,” but rather a “coup” that deposed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in February.
He rejected Western claims that the unrest in Ukraine is due to Russian meddling, saying an American-backed “coup” resulted in “chaos and full-scale civil war.”
Asked if Russia will recognize the results of this Sunday’s presidential election in Ukraine, Putin said Russia “will respect the will of the people” and will work with whoever wins. His comments, however, afford him some wiggle room to declare that the election did not reflect the will of the people since separatist-held regions in southeastern Ukraine are rejecting the vote.
Putin also demanded that Ukraine pay the $3.5 billion Russia says Ukraine owes it for past gas deliveries.
He called Europe “snobs” for ignoring Russia’s concerns about the economic deal they offered Ukraine last year. President Yanukovich ultimately rejected the offer in favor of a Russian loan, leading to the street protests that led to his ouster.
Putin defended Russia’s intervention in Crimea, which the West and the leaders in Kiev have denounced as an illegal land grab.
“We just ensured the free will of the people,” Putin said of the hastily-arranged referendum that led to the region’s annexation by Russia.
“If we had not done that there would have been worse than in Odessa where people were burned alive,” Putin argued, referring to a fiery clash in the Ukrainian city last month that left dozens dead.
Putin defended his friends who were sanctioned by the United States last month over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea.
“Those people are my friends and I’m proud to call them my friends. They are patriots,” Putin said. “Their business have been directed towards cooperation with our country. Have their sanctions harmed their business? Definitely so. But they are experienced entrepreneurs. They took their money out and moved it to Russia so they haven’t sanctioned too much, but their businesses have been damaged by sanctions. This is unlawful and unfair.”
A visibly angry Putin noted that the United States is threatening more sanctions and asked what the justification will be.
“What have we done this time? There has recently been an earthquake in Thailand. Would you like to sanction Russia for that as well?” he asked sarcastically. “There is a civil war in Ukraine. What does Russia have to do with that?”
He suggested the United States only imposed the sanctions to gain a trade edge over European competitors who do more business with Russia.
Putin conceded that the sanctions have taken a toll on the Russian economy, which is hemorrhaging money and on the brink of recession. He argued, however, that it has not caused any lasting damage.
ON THE WORLD:
“The world is really changing rapidly. We see colossal geopolitical, technological and structural shifts. The unipolar model of the world order has failed,” Putin said. “Today this is obvious to everyone, even to those who are still trying to act in their habitual coordinate system.”
ON THE INTERNET:
Putin claimed that Russia had no plan to restrict the internet, despite widespread fears to the contrary.
“We have no restrictions over individual self-expression or the use of modern technologies for personal or business development,” Putin said.
He suggested any restrictions were similar to measures imposed in the West.
“Restrictions were introduced, so what do they consist of? Banning the propaganda of pedophilia, child pornography, methods of suicide. Excuse me, there are plenty of such restrictions in the legal systems of all other countries, including Europe and the United States,” Putin added.