President Vladimir V. Putin on Friday rejected suggestions that Russia had become isolated over its invasion of Ukraine, telling an audience in St. Petersburg that the Russian economy was resilient and that Moscow’s ties with other nations had grown.
The Russian leader spoke at the annual international economic forum in St. Petersburg, which long was the country’s premier event for attracting Western investors. Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year and Western economic sanctions imposed as a result, the forum has transformed into a shadow of its former self.
Mr. Putin has repeatedly sought to reassure his domestic audience that Russia can sustain its economy despite the sanctions by pivoting to Asia and other regions. He struck a similar tone on Friday, telling the forum that Russia has not been on a path of “isolationism” but rather has “expanded contacts” with what he described as “reliable” partners.
In his speech, Mr. Putin barely mentioned the war, referring to it only indirectly in terms of the economic challenges brought by Western sanctions that he suggested were ultimately making Russia stronger. “The very fabric of economic life was being rewoven,” he said.
In saying though that Russia’s public finances were “generally balanced,” Mr. Putin acknowledged that military spending to purchase weapons had “naturally” increased.
“We are obliged to do this to protect the sovereignty of our country,” he said.
But the war was the subject of the first question posed after Mr. Putin’s speech, which the Russian leader responded to by reiterating his false claim that Ukraine needed to be “de-Nazified.”
Mr. Putin accused Western nations of taking “drastic measures” to ensure Russia’s defeat by giving weapons to Kyiv, but said an increase in Russian defense production would help counter the deliveries.
He also rejected the suggestion that Ukraine was seeing success in its recently launched counteroffensive, telling the audience that Kyiv’s forces were sustaining serious losses and had “no chance.”
Significant trading partners like China and India have dispatched representatives to the event in St. Petersburg, as have a small number of other Asian, Middle Eastern, African and Latin American friends of Russia. Yet the Western world in particular, has stayed away.