Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused Europe and the U.S. of hypocrisy over criticism of the response to anti-government protests in Russia and Belarus and warned that America was at risk of following the path of the Soviet Union.
In a speech at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, Putin discussed Russia's relations with the U.S. ahead of a meeting with President Joe Biden, describing them as "at an extremely low level now."
He criticised sanctions against Russia as well as allegations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. election and said that Washington and Europe had double standards in criticising the police crackdown against protesters in Moscow and Belarus in recent months.
“We don’t have any issues with the U.S. But it has an issue with us," he said.
"It wants to contain our development and publicly talks about it. Economic restrictions and attempts to influence our country’s domestic politics, relying on forces they consider their allies inside Russia, stem from that.”
Ties between Russia and the U.S. have sunk to post-Cold War lows over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, accusations of Russian interference in elections, and cyberattacks that U.S. officials allege had Russian origins.
Putin reiterated that Russia rejects accusations of interfering in U.S. presidential elections, and he spoke critically of the U.S. response to the Capitol attack, which took place as Congress prepared to certify that Biden had defeated then-President Donald Trump in November.
“They weren’t just a crowd of robbers and rioters. Those people had come with political demands,” he said.
Putin pointed out that the heavy charges against hundreds of participants in the attack were filed even as the U.S. and its allies strongly criticized Belarus’ crackdown on anti-government protests.
He charged that even as the West has criticized Russian authorities for a harsh response to anti-Kremlin demonstrations, protesters in Europe have faced an even tougher police response, with some shot in the eye by what he mockingly called “democratic rubber bullets.”
Later, during a call with journalists, Putin criticised the United States as being overconfident and drew a parallel with the Soviet Union.
“You know what the problem is? I will tell you as a former citizen of the former Soviet Union. What is the problem of empires — they think that they are so powerful that they can afford small errors and mistakes," he said.
“But the number of problems is growing. There comes a time when they can no longer be dealt with. And the United States, with a confident gait, a firm step, is going straight along the path of the Soviet Union.”
Climate change and COVID-19
On other issues, Putin praised his country's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and called for a stronger worldwide response to global warming as he sought to bolster Russia's international standing.
Addressing the forum, Putin lauded the efficiency of Russian-designed vaccines and bemoaned what he described as “politically motivated bans” on their purchase in some countries.
Putin also emphasized the need to strengthen the international response to climate change, noting that melting permafrost has posed a major challenge to Russia's Arctic regions.
“We have entire cities built on permafrost,” he said. “What will happen if it all starts melting?”