Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused what he called “enemies of yesterday” of trying to bring a new Iron Curtain down around Russia. As it moves into recession, he blames the West.
On the other hand, he gave himself high marks for annexing Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and said his country would rise to any challenge.
He delivered his annual state-of-the-nation speech in St. George Hall in the Kremlin.
Putin said: “The historical reunification of Crimea and Sebastopol with Russia finally happened. This has a special importance for our people, our country, because our people live in Crimea, and the territory is strategically important. It is a sacred source of our multi-faced but unified Russian nation.”
He insisted that Crimea is as important to Russians as Temple Mount in Jerusalem is to Islam and Judaism.
The speech makes clear that Russia feels its historic ties with Ukraine are undiminished.
“I’m sure the Ukrainian nation itself will judge these events fairly. As for the association of Ukraine with the European Union, there was no dialogue at all. We were told that this is not our business, and if you use a simple language they just tell you to take a hike.”
Russia’s ties with the West are at their worst since the Cold War over Ukraine, where more than 4,300 people have been killed since its internal east-west violence erupted. Given Moscow’s relations with the rebels, Putin accuses Washington and Brussels of ignoring Russia’s interests.
“On the matter of sanctions, they’re not just a nervous reaction of the US or its allies to our position regarding the events and coup in Ukraine, or the so-called Crimea spring. I’m sure that if none of this had happened, they would have invented some other reason to contain Russia’s growing power, to influence Russia or use Russia to their own ends.”
Putin accuses the West of welcoming Chechen separatists against whom Russia fought a war in the 1990s and of wanting to dismember the Russian Federation like the former Yugoslavia.
“In spite of our unprecedented openness and readiness to cooperate on the most difficult questions, and even though we regard our enemies of yesterday as our closest friends and allies, we no longer have any doubt that they would happily see us disintegrate like Yugoslavia. We did not let that happen when Hitler tried it. Let everyone remember how those kinds of things end.”
Putin said pressure in the form of economic sanctions must drive Russians to develop their own economy, and that Russia will not allow itself to become internationally isolated.