Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed countries that he said were trying to “impose their dominance” and rules on others, saying Wednesday that those that do were “completely ignoring the sovereignty” of other states.
Speaking at a conference on security issues Wednesday, Putin said the world was becoming increasingly unstable and that “new centers of tension are emerging.”
He laid the blame for this new era of turbulence at the door of unspecified “individual countries and associations” — widely understood to refer to Russia’s rivals in the West and NATO — that he said were trying “to preserve, retain their dominance, impose their own rules, completely ignoring the sovereignty, national interests, traditions of other states.”
“All this is accompanied by a build-up of military potential, unceremonious interference in the internal affairs of other countries,” Putin said, “as well as attempts to extract unilateral advantages from the energy and food crises provoked by a number of Western states.”
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There was not a whiff of irony from Putin, a leader who over his 23 years in power in Russia has overseen a systematic program of interference in other countries’ internal affairs and sovereignty, most recently, in Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine 15 months ago.
Before the invasion, there had been numerous instances of Russia interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, ranging from the state-sponsored use of cyberattacks and spread of disinformation to attempts to influence the U.K.’s Brexit referendum in 2016 meddling in the U.S. election of the same year (and, again, in 2020) with Russia denying the charges but earning itself sanctions nonetheless.
Russia has also been accused of supporting both far-right and far-left parties in continental Europe in a bid to destabilize regional politics and, more recently, has launched charm offensives in African and Latin American countries in an effort to influence domestic and foreign policy.
Russia’s interference has also veered into the dangerous realm of chemical weapons and assassination attempts on foreign soil. In 2018, the Kremlin was widely believed to have ordered a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in the U.K., an attack that left a British citizen dead.
Again, Russia denied any involvement in the poisoning but, with much evidence supporting the allegation, Western countries imposed sanctions on Russia for the incident which Britain saw was “an assault on U.K. sovereignty.”
It is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year that’s widely seen as one of most egregious instances of “ignoring the sovereignty” of another country in the 21st century, however.
When Russian launched its invasion, Putin tried to justify the move to a domestic audience, saying Russia wanted to “de-Nazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine, a country that has a Jewish president and is not in NATO.
Still, most onlookers understood that the stated aims hid Moscow’s real intention which was (and is) to overthrow the pro-Western government in Kyiv and regain its influence over the former Soviet republic.
Ukraine has been steadily trending toward its European neighbors for years, despite Russia’s attempts to maintain a pro-Kremlin leadership in the country. A pro-European uprising in Ukraine in 2014 resulted in the overthrow of the then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Russia’s preferred man in Kyiv.
Yanukovych fled to Russia in the ensuing political crisis, an event that Russia still slams as a “coup” that was orchestrated by the U.S., without presenting evidence. The uprising, or Maidan Revolution as Ukrainians know it, led to the start of armed hostilities between Russia and Ukraine with Russia invading Crimea in March 2014 and fomenting pro-Russian unrest — and an armed separatist movement — in the east of the country.
Russia’s perception of Ukraine and other former Soviet states’ slide toward the West, and its sphere of influence, has troubled Moscow and it has tried to maintain influence over its neighbors by hook or by crook.
As with eastern Ukraine and the two pro-Russian separatist “republics” there that were supported by Moscow, the same playbook was used in Georgia. Russia recognized the “independence” of pro-Russian separatist parts of the country, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in 2008 in a move that led to war, albeit on a much shorter scale than we’ve seen in Ukraine. Georgia still views Russia as occupying 20% of its country. In Moldova, the restive, pro-Russian territory of Transnistria is also seen as a potential target for Russian annexation.
With Ukraine mounting far more resistance than Russia expected, there are fears the conflict could last for years, with immense human and economic cost. Putin said Tuesday that Russia was going through “difficult times” as it continued its military campaign in Ukraine, but said national pride was growing.
Russia has seen sanction after sanction imposed on it for its geopolitical meddling and misdemeanors but its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the latest outbreak of war on European territory pushed NATO to act decisively, with Western countries rallying round Kyiv to provide it with military and financial aid to help it defend itself against its neighbor.
Western leaders have repeatedly warned that there are wider securities at stake and that Russia must not be allowed to win in its invasion, fearing that other former Soviet states could be next as Putin is seen to be trying to rebuild a Soviet empire; Putin has publicly lamented the loss of the USSR, calling it one of the greatest geopolitical catastrophes Russia experienced last century.
Speaking at the same event Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the West wanted to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia and claimed NATO weapons for Ukraine were being spread beyond the country’s borders.
“The collective West does not hide its intention to inflict a strategic defeat on us. The Kyiv regime is being used as an anti-Russian battering ram, which is being pumped up with NATO weapons. At the same time, part of the Western supplies — and an increasing part — are spreading uncontrollably around the world,” he said, news agency TASS reported.