A defiant Vladimir Putin declared Friday that the Western order was collapsing, brushing aside the economic and diplomatic fallout from his invasion of Ukraine in a speech the Kremlin billed as “extremely important."
The Russian president offered a wide-ranging denunciation of the United States and a defense of his financial policies but largely steered clear of discussing the war in his address to Russia’s showpiece economic forum, which was delayed by an apparent cyberattack.
Putin argued that the era of America's global dominance was at an end and claimed that the sanctions "blitzkrieg" imposed on Moscow's economy by Washington and its allies had failed.
"The previous world order is finished — irrespective of all the efforts to preserve it, it's a natural way of history," he told the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an annual business meeting launched in 1997 as a Russian alternative to the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland.
A situation with "One strong power with a limited circle of countries [in support]" was "not stable," he said, adding that it was a mistake for the U.S. to have claimed victory in the Cold War and to have treated other countries "like colonies."
Putin said the war in Ukraine, which he maintains was launched to protect Russian-speaking people in the country's east, was “the decision of a sovereign country based on the right to defend its security.”
“All the objectives of the special military operation will be implemented, there’s no doubt about it,” he added.
The U.S. has helped build an alliance to aid Ukraine's defensive war with military supplies while hitting Russia's economy with severe sanctions. Putin said his country was withstanding those efforts and pointed to increasing price inflation and energy costs across the West as evidence that those sanctions had backfired.
Costs were rising in the West "long before we launched the special military operation in the Donbas," he added, scoffing at the idea of a "Putin price rise" and sticking to his own narrow definition of the war that has now brought nearly four months of death and destruction to Russia's democratic neighbor.
As he spoke, Russian forces were pressing their attacks on cities in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, an offensive that has seen Moscow's troops make painstaking gains behind a heavy artillery assault. But even with the battlefield advances, the Kremlin was dealt another diplomatic setback on Friday as the European Union's executive recommended putting Kyiv on a path to membership of the bloc.
Ahead of the speech, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin's address would be "extremely important," according to Russian state-run news agency Tass.
But the speech was delayed by more than 90 minutes because of a DDoS attack in which hackers flood websites with traffic in an effort to disrupt their operations or knock them offline, according to Peskov.
Because major DDoS attacks are usually conducted with a large number of hacked devices all visiting the same site in unison, it’s usually impossible to definitively say who’s responsible for them.
But the IT Army of Ukraine, an international group of volunteer hackers endorsed by the country’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, had encouraged its members to attack the event in a post on its Telegram channel.
It later posted headlines from Russian news coverage of the delay and posted in English: “You did a very good job today!”
The forum’s organizers said that 13,500 people from 141 countries attended last year’s forum, which was held online due to the pandemic.
Many nations have shunned Russian since it launched a brutal invasion of Ukraine in February — but Egypt is participating in the forum this year as a “guest country.”
St. Petersburg has added significance for Putin. As well as being his home city, it is named after Peter the Great, the 18th-century modernizing but militant czar to whom Putin favorably compared himself to this month.