By IRINA TITOVA and JIM HEINTZ
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — President Vladimir Putin said at Russia’s showpiece investment conference Friday that the country’s economy will overcome “reckless and insane” sanctions, while condemning the United States for acting like “God’s own messengers on planet Earth.”
Putin began his address to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum with a lengthy denunciation of countries that he contends want to weaken Russia, including the United States.
He said the U.S. “declared victory in the Cold War and later came to think of themselves as God’s own messengers on planet Earth.”
Russia came under a wide array of sanctions after sending troops into Ukraine in February. Hundreds of foreign companies also suspended operations in Russia or pulled out of the country entirely.
Putin said trying to damage the Russian economy “didn’t work.”
“Russian enterprises and government authorities worked in a composed and professional manner,” he said. “We’re normalizing the economic situation. We stabilized the financial markets, the banking system, the trade system.”
Russia’s projected inflation rate has fallen marginally, but the current projected annual rate of 16.7% is still too high, he said.
Putin also vehemently defended his country’s actions in Ukraine. Russia has contended its neighbor posed a threat because of its desire to join the NATO military alliance.
“In the current situation, against a backdrop of soaring risks and threats, Russia’s decision to conduct a special military operation was a forced one,” the Russian leader said. “It was very hard to make it, but it was forced and necessary. It was a decision by a sovereign country that has an unconditional right, based on the U.N. Charter, to defend its security.”
Putin predicted Russia’s success in Ukraine after more than 16 weeks of fighting.
“All of the special military operation’s objectives will definitely be attained,” he said. “This is predetermined by the courage and heroism of our warriors, the consolidation of Russian society, whose support gives strength and confidence to Russia’s army and navy, the profound understanding of the rightness and historic justice of our cause.”
Russia also “will accept any of the choices” the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine make about their futures, Putin said. There’s been consistent speculation that the separatist territories will hold votes on joining Russia, similar to when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Separatist leaders of the two areas have expressed the desire for such a referendum.
Russia recognized the two areas as independent states days before sending troops to Ukraine, a move none of its allies have so far repeated. Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who sat on the stage alongside Putin at the St. Petersburg forum on Friday, said the Central Asian nation is unlikely to do so and called the self-proclaimed republics “quasi-state territories.”
The fighting in Ukraine has raised fears of a global food crisis because it has interrupted food exports, particularly of grain.
Putin said Russia could “significantly increase its export of food and fertilizer” but expressed concern that Ukraine might use income from exports to pay for weapons it has received from other countries.
Heintz reported from Moscow.
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