Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised his country’s economic strength despite the imposition of tough international sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine, called Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “disgrace” to the Jewish people and said Kyiv had no chance of winning the war.
Speaking at the premier St Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday, Putin also asked the audience to hold a minute’s silence in honour of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who died on Monday.
Here’s a summary of what Putin said:
The country’s macroeconomic trends were looking positive while “gaining momentum and strength”.
“In April of this year, gross domestic product grew by 3.3 percent in annual terms, and by the end of the year it will add more than a percent,” Putin said.
His government’s responsible budgetary and monetary policy had ensured that Russia had reached historically low levels of unemployment, which currently stood at 3.3 percent, he added.
Fighting in Ukraine
Ukraine’s counteroffensive would fail as Kyiv’s troops sought to advance in several directions, Putin said, including in the southeastern region of Zaporizhia.
“I think that Ukraine’s armed forces stand no chance here, as well as in other directions … I have no doubt about that.”
The 70-year-old leader said Ukraine had almost depleted all of its own weapons and armoury, and will soon be reliant on supplies solely from its allies.
“Soon Ukraine will stop using its own equipment altogether. Nothing remains of it. Everything with which they fight and everything that they use is brought in from the outside. You can’t fight for long like that.”
Danger for NATO
“[Western] tanks are burning. Several tanks have been destroyed, including Leopards… F-16s will also burn, there is no doubt. But if they are located outside Ukraine and are used in hostilities, we will have to look at how and where we can hit those weapons used in hostilities against us.”
“There is a serious danger of NATO being further drawn into this armed conflict,” he warned of the military alliance.
“We have never closed the door [on the idea of Ukraine peace talks].”
Nuclear warheads in Belarus
Putin confirmed Moscow had sent nuclear arms to its ally Belarus, which borders Ukraine.
“The first nuclear warheads were delivered to the territory of Belarus … This is the first part,” Putin said.
He had announced plans to send tactical nuclear weapons – less powerful than strategic weapons – in March.
“By the end of summer, the end of the year, we will complete the process,” of transferring tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, Putin added.
He also said that the “use of nuclear weapons is certainly theoretically possible. For Russia, this is possible if a threat is created to our territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty, the existence of the Russian state.”
Attacks on Russian territory
“As for [attacks] on these [Russian] border territories, well, this is an attempt to distract us … to force us to transfer some units deployed on other parts of the front line.”
Putin criticised Zelenskyy and called him a “disgrace”.
“I have many Jewish friends. They say Zelenskyy is not a Jew, he is a disgrace to the Jewish people.”
The Russian leader has frequently described Ukraine as a Nazi state and used the false claim to justify his invasion, citing a goal of “denazification”.
While the country’s public finances were “generally balanced”, Putin said a small current federal budget deficit existed and additional funds were needed to strengthen Russia’s defence capabilities.
“We are obliged to do this to protect the sovereignty of our country.”
“We practically have no contacts, and it wasn’t us that rejected them,” he said regarding the tumultuous relationship that broke down further after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.
“If there was a desire to conduct some kind of dialogue with us … they simply transferred this dialogue to the sphere of arms supplies.”
On US President Joe Biden
“President Biden is a grown man and a seasoned politician. It’s not for me to tell him what to do. Let him do as he sees fit, and we will do what we believe is in the interests of the Russian Federation and the people of Russia. And everyone will have to reckon with this.”
Putin criticised Europe for restarting coal-fired power plants while he praised the Kremlin’s climate policy.
“Unlike many other states, we are fulfilling all the commitments we have taken on in this sphere. Even ahead of schedule,” he said.
Some states have recently increased their electricity generation from coal, despite declarations to the contrary, he added.
Freezing of Russian assets
The president said the depositing of funds earned in Russia into foreign accounts carried “unacceptable risks” not only for the government, but Russian businesses, too.
“Many of our businessmen were convinced of this by their own example when they saw and were surprised to find that their accounts and assets were frozen in the West,” he added.
Foreign businesses in Russia
“I will say that if foreign manufacturers want to return again, come to our market, and we hear such conversations more and more often, we are not closing the doors to anyone.
“You know very well that we have never driven anyone from our market or our economy.”