Putin hits out over Western sanctions ‘blitzkrieg’

Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2022.

Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his hand was “forced” over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and claimed a “blitzkrieg” of Western economic sanctions had failed to undermine Russia’s economy.

Putin said the “stupid” sanctions, which have barred Russian banks from international payments systems and led international businesses to exit the country in droves, were “doomed from the beginning,” adding that the country remains open for business “with those who want it.”

“The economic blitzkrieg against Russia was doomed from the beginning,” Putin said Friday, according to a translation. Blitzkrieg describes a surprise attack of overwhelming force; a method widely associated with Nazi Germany in World War II.

“It is obvious that they have failed. It didn’t happen, they didn’t succeed,” he said.

Speaking at a plenary session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin accused the West of colonial arrogance and said that Moscow’s so-called “special military operation” — which has thrown Ukraine into all-out warfare and led to the deaths of thousands — was down to the West’s refusal to respect its obligations.

“The decision to launch our special military operation was something that we were forced to do, they forced our hand,” he said, adding that the decision had been “difficult” but reaffirmed the Kremlin’s commitment to achieving its military goals.

“All the missions we have set for ourselves and all the goals of the special military operation will be completed in full,” Putin said, prompting applause from those in attendance.

Russia’s president has long pushed back against what he sees as the expansion of the West — and NATO, in particular — along Russia’s border, using it as one of the justifications for his internationally condemned invasion of Ukraine.

Putin: ‘They are blaming us’

Putin also hit back at what he described as false accusations that the war in Ukraine, and resultant implications for supply chains and commodity markets, were responsible for the worsening global economic landscape.

Putin said he might be “flattered” at the suggestion that Russia’s war could have knock-on effects on the U.S. economy, but insisted that was not true — an opinion that has been widely refuted by economists.

“We probably would be flattered to hear that we are so great and so powerful that we could drive inflation to the sky in the U.S.,” he said. “That is simply not true.”

In Europe, meanwhile, he said the worsening energy crisis was driven by “failures” in the region’s energy policy and specifically its “blind” belief in renewable energies. Europe has traditionally been a major importer of Russian hydrocarbons but has since curtailed its reliance on Russia in response to the war, leading to supply gluts and increased commodity prices.

“This has started long before our special military operation in the Donbas, and they’re blaming us. They made their prices soar and they’re blaming us,” he said.

He also said that the European Union could lose more than $400 billion due to the sanctions, which he said would rebound on those who had imposed them.

His comments to an audience of business leaders at SPIEF come at a time when Russia remains isolated from the West due to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

What could happen next?

Before the war, SPIEF was a prominent fixture on the business world’s calendar, with corporate and political leaders heading to Putin’s hometown for the forum in which Russia sought to promote its economy and attract investors.

However, after the Covid pandemic — and now with the war in Ukraine — the event looks drastically different, with many Western businesses abandoning Russia. Notably, Russia — now under a raft of international sanctions — still enjoys a close relationship with China and India, further cementing its pivot eastwards.

Russia initially launched a full-scale invasion (or what it calls its “special military operation”) of Ukraine on Feb. 24, saying it intended to “de-Nazify and de-militarize” the country, making spurious claims about the leadership in Kyiv that have been roundly rebuffed.

Having invaded from the north, east and south, however, it quickly became apparent that Russia’s forces had bitten off more than they could chew. Moscow then announced that its troops would pull back from the capital Kyiv to focus on “liberating” the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, an industrial region where two pro-Russian, self-styled “republics” are located.

Since its shift in strategy, Russia has pounded towns and cities in the region and made slow but steady progress, seizing a swathe of territory in the east and southeast of Ukraine.

Ukraine continues to ask for more heavy weaponry from its Western allies, although questions are starting to be asked of governments over how long such support is sustainable.

If Russia seizes the whole of the Donbas, what happens next is uncertain. Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine stalled early on in the conflict and Kyiv has repeatedly said it will not concede any territory to Moscow.

In the meantime, Russia is state-building in the territories it occupies, handing out passports to residents in Kherson and Melitopol and planning referenda in occupied cities like Kherson and Melitopol on joining Russia. Ukraine has condemned what it sees as the attempted “Russification” of its lands and has said any referenda would be a sham and illegal.

There are widespread concerns that — even if Russia was able to seize a corner of Ukraine — it would not be satisfied, and could attempt a further invasion of Ukraine at a later point.

Other former Soviet republics like Moldova and Georgia are also said to be at risk. Putin has made no secret of his regret at the collapse of the Soviet Union, and last week even positioned himself as a successor to 17th-century Tsar and Russian Empire builder, Peter the Great.