Putin rages against the West and praises troops in major speech on Ukraine war

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  • February 21, 2023
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ladimir Putin railed against the West on Tuesday in a long-delayed state-of-the-nation address, accusing Ukraine’s allies of starting the war.

Putin claims his war, in which tens of thousands have been killed, is needed to “demilitarise” Ukraine. The West and Nato reject that and accuse Putin of an unprovoked war of expansion.

Putin accused the West and Nato of wanting to “make the conflict global” in a rambling speech ahead of the war’s one-year anniversary on Friday and praised the country’s soldiers.

“I am making this address at a time which we all know is a difficult, watershed moment for our country, a time of cardinal, irreversible changes around the world, the most important historic events that will shape the future of our country and our people,” Putin told Russian lawmakers.

“We did everything possible, genuinely everything possible, in order to solve this problem [in Ukraine] by peaceful means.

“We were patient, we were negotiating a peaceful way out of this difficult conflict, but a completely different scenario was being prepared behind our backs.”

He added: “It’s they who have started the war. And we are using force to end it.”

The Russian leader said the government would establish a special fund for the families of soldiers killed in its invasion of Ukraine.

“We all understand, I understand how unbearably hard it is now for the wives, sons, daughters of fallen soldiers, their parents, who raised worthy defenders of the Fatherland,” he said.

Joe Biden met with Volodymyr Zelensky and Olena Zelenska on Monday

/ AP

The speech showed Putin has lost touch with reality, a senior Ukrainian official said in response.

“He is in a completely different reality, where there is no opportunity to conduct a dialogue about justice and international law,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told news agency Reuters.

Putin’s speech is taking place while US President Joe Biden is in Warsaw, fresh from a surprise visit to Kyiv, where he pledged the West would stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

According to the White House, Mr Biden is listening to the speech before making his own remarks in Poland.

Responding to Russia’s claim that the West has provoked the war, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said: “Nobody is attacking Russia. There’s a kind of absurdity in the notion that Russia was under some form of military threat from Ukraine or anyone else.”

Russia has suffered a series of major battlefield reversals during the war but still controls around one-fifth of Ukraine.

These include being forced into retreats from Kyiv, Kharkiv in the north-east and Kherson in the south.

British officials also expect it is likely that Russia will claim victory on the eastern frontline of Bakhmut to coincide with the anniversary – regardless of the actual situation on the ground.

Russia is widely expected to be planning a spring offensive, which could increase tensions within the Russian leadership if it does not prove fruitful.

Jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny accused Putin on Monday of destroying Russia’s future for the sake of his own ambition.

“The real reasons for this war are the political and economic problems within Russia, Putin’s desire to hold on to power at any cost, and his obsession with his own historical legacy,” Mr Navalny said.

“He wants to go down in history as ‘the conqueror tsar’”.