In a three-hour press conference today, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked if the country’s current economic troubles have anything to do with international penalties for the invasion of Ukraine.
“No. This is not the price we have to pay for Crimea… This is actually the price we have to pay for our natural aspiration to preserve ourselves as a nation, as a civilisation, as a state. And here is why,” Putin began.
“After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia opened itself to our partners. What did we see? A direct and fully-fledged support of terrorism in North Caucasus. They directly supported terrorism, you understand? Is that what partners usually do? I won’t go into details on that, but this is an established fact. And everyone knows it,” he said.
“On any issue, no matter what we do, we always run into challenges, objections and opposition. Let me remind you about the preparations for the 2014 Olympics, our inspiration and enthusiasm to organise a festive event not only for Russian sports fans, but for sports fans all over the world. However, and this is an evident truth, unprecedented and clearly orchestrated attempts were made to discredit our efforts to organise and host the Olympics. This is an undeniable fact! Who needs to do so and for what reason? And so on and so forth.”
Putin compared Russian policy to “a bear protecting his taiga.”
“You see, if we continue the analogy, sometimes I think that maybe it would be best if our bear just sat still. Maybe he should stop chasing pigs and boars around the taiga but start picking berries and eating honey. Maybe then he will be left alone. But no, he won’t be!” he said.
“Because someone will always try to chain him up. As soon as he’s chained they will tear out his teeth and claws. In this analogy, I am referring to the power of nuclear deterrence. As soon as – God forbid – it happens and they no longer need the bear, the taiga will be taken over.”
In a pointed reference to the Siberian autonomy movement, which has picked up steam this year, Putin added that he’s heard “even from high-level officials that it is unfair that the whole of Siberia with its immense resources belongs to Russia in its entirety. Why exactly is it unfair? So it is fair to snatch Texas from Mexico but it is unfair that we are working on our own land – no, we have to share.”
“And then, when all the teeth and claws are torn out, the bear will be of no use at all. Perhaps they’ll stuff it and that’s all,” he said. “So, it is not about Crimea but about us protecting our independence, our sovereignty and our right to exist. That is what we should all realize.”
Despite sanctions, Putin stressed, “we must decide whether we want to keep going and fight, change our economy – for the better, by the way, because we can use the current situation to our own advantage – and be more independent, go through all this or we want our skin to hang on the wall.”
“This is the choice we need to make and it has nothing to do with Crimea at all.”