Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking to rally anti-American sentiment in Europe and around the world, lambasted the United States again on Friday, calling it a declining power that treats its allies like colonies, and said the West wrongly blamed its economy for Ukraine’s war woes.
“We all hear about Putin’s so-called inflation in the West,” Putin told the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an annual business conference once known as “Russia’s Davos,” appearing to refer to the US President Joe Biden’s efforts to blame Russia. assault for what he calls a “Putin price hike” that hurts American consumers.
“When I see this, I always think: who is this stupidity for?” says Putin. “For someone who can neither read nor write.”
Putin spoke as the European Commission formally recommended on Friday that Ukraine be granted candidate status for European Union membership, the first step in a long and arduous journey that may not immediate impact on the war but could give the country a symbolic status. boost morale.
The commission, the EU’s executive, also recommended candidate status to Moldova – which applied for membership shortly after Ukraine, spurred by concerns over Russian threats in the region – but not to neighboring Georgia, which was not deemed ready for EU membership.
“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 European Commissioners on Friday in Brussels dressed in a blue shirt and a yellow blazer, the national colors of Ukraine. “We want them to live the European dream with us.”
Ukraine’s joining the bloc could take years. The European Commission has made Ukraine’s candidate status conditional on several changes to the country’s judiciary and government. Even while fighting the Russian army, Ukraine will have to guarantee an independent judiciary, eliminate high-level corruption, adopt media laws, limit the influence of oligarchs and improve legislation on money laundering and protection of minorities, the commission said.
In some ways, the war seems to have facilitated these tasks. The status of the oligarchs plummeted as some fled and others lost assets and income in the fighting, while the economy became more dependent on foreign aid than commodity-dominated exports. the oligarchs. The security services – once, in part, controlled behind the scenes by these business titans – have cemented their positions as institutions defending the country as a whole, not commercial interests.
In other respects, the war has created new obstacles to Ukraine’s European aspirations beyond the obvious threat of Russian conquest of the country. Under martial law, opposition television stations were barred from a national cable system. If war and martial law persist for months or years, regular elections are unlikely to take place.
“The government deserves nothing but applause” for winning Ukraine’s long-awaited membership as a candidate for EU membership, said Volodymyr Ariyev, a member of Ukraine’s parliament from the opposition European Solidarity party , in an interview. “But we have to maintain our development in a democratic way, otherwise we could lose our candidate status.”
The final decision on whether to make Moldova and Ukraine official candidates for EU membership will be taken by EU leaders in Brussels next week. The commission said it would assess Ukraine’s progress at the end of the year.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the commission’s recommendation, saying it would help his country ward off Russia. “This is the first step on the road to EU membership which will certainly bring our victory closer,” he wrote on Twitter.
Putin’s remarks at the economic forum were delayed for more than an hour after the Kremlin cited “large-scale” distributed denial-of-service cyberattacks on the conference’s computer systems. The cyberattack came after the IT Army of Ukraine, 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 longest public appearance since ordering the invasion of Ukraine in February. But he did little to clarify his war aims, restating his descriptions of Ukrainian territory as historically belonging to Russia while avoiding even more hostile rhetoric from other Russian officials.
‘Only the people who live there will determine their future,’ Putin says of eastern Ukraine territory Russia is capturing, leaving open the question of whether he will seek to annex it . “And we will respect any choice they make.”
Ukrainian officials have strongly rejected the legitimacy of any putative referendum organized by the Kremlin and its proxies.
CEOs of blue-chip Western companies used to flock to the St. Petersburg conference, but this year guests from Europe and the United States were few. Instead, it was a small delegation from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that made Russian media headlines, while Egyptian and Chinese leaders recorded video greetings that were shown during the plenary session after Putin’s speech.
But even in the session, which seemed aimed at highlighting Russia’s global connections despite its Western isolation, the limits of its friendships became apparent. Putin shared the stage with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that has been a close Russian ally but has said it will not violate Western sanctions against Russia.
Asked about his attitude towards what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, Tokayev chose his words carefully, refusing to offer any support. He said that, as with the Russian-backed separatist enclaves in Georgia, Kazakhstan would not recognize the “quasi-state territories” that Russia supports in eastern Ukraine.
Putin, relaxed and smiling frequently, did not give the appearance of a wartime president. Instead, he focused on the economy, alternating between the idea that Russia could easily replace Western imports and investment and the assertion that Russians could temporarily do without this comfort.
When the session’s host, Russian state television official Margarita Simonyan, presented Putin with a Russian juice box that was white due to a shortage of imported ink, he said such details should be the least of people’s worries.
“What is most important to us? asked Putin. “Being independent, sovereign and ensuring our future development now for future generations? Or to have a wrap today?
Putin spent most of the session pushing the idea that Russia could still thrive despite Western sanctions. He promised environmental and regulatory reforms — such as getting businessmen jailed less frequently by corrupt officials — as well as government initiatives to support Russian businesses.
“Russia is entering the approaching era as a powerful and sovereign country,” Putin said. “We will certainly use the colossal new opportunities that this era opens up before us and grow even stronger.”
Regarding EU sanctions against Russia, Putin claimed the bloc acted on Washington’s orders despite the fallout on its own economy. “The European Union has completely lost its political sovereignty,” Putin said.
But he said Russia would have nothing against Ukraine joining the bloc. The EU is “not a military organization”, like NATO, he said, and it is “the sovereign decision of any country” to seek membership.
“We have never been against it – we have always been against military expansion into Ukrainian territory because it threatens our security,” Putin said. “But when it comes to economic integration, please, for God’s sake, that’s their choice.”
Russia, in fact, opposed a trade deal with the EU that Ukraine was negotiating in 2013. Ukraine later withdrew from the ongoing deal under Russian pressure, a decision that triggered the country’s pro-Western uprising the following year.
In a surprise move meant to show more solidarity with Ukraine, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his second visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on Friday, a day after the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Romania met there.
Having recently survived a no-confidence vote among his own lawmakers, Johnson might have hoped the visit would bolster his popularity. He promised a new aid package with the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days.
Britain, Johnson told a news conference, would help the Ukrainian military ‘to do what I believe the Ukrainians aspire to do, which is to expel the aggressor from Ukraine’ .
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