Ukraine and China Top Putin’s Annual Press Conference - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Ukraine and China Top Putin’s Annual Press Conference

Russian President Vladimir Putin scored major propaganda points in his over four-hour annual press conference this week. He turned attention away from Russia’s invasion of Crimea, support of Russian separatists in the Donbas region (Donbas), and troop buildup on Ukraine’s borders. Instead, Putin guides the untrained eye through the conflict in terms of Russian grievances. In Putin-speak, the Ukrainian conflict is a product of Ukrainian persecution of Russians and separatists, and NATO’s expansion eastward. Putin also used the news conference to showcase the growing Russia-China strategic partnership. Putin made the following claims:

Claim #1: Ukraine Is a Made-Up Country

Putin implicitly questioned the sovereignty of Ukraine, as well as Ukraine’s sovereignty over the Donbas region. On the origins of Ukraine and Donbas, Putin said “Lenin and his comrades decided that Donbas should belong to Ukraine and they created a country that never existed, and that was the Ukrainian Republic. And they pushed some of the historically Russian territories into that republic.” With those two sentences, Putin implies that Ukraine and Donbas are legal fictions that are ripe for revision.

Claim #2: Ukraine Is a Destabilizing Force

Putin claims that Ukraine, not Russia, is the destabilizing force in the region. To do this, Putin maintains that the Ukraine is discriminating against its Russian citizens. Putin refers to a 2019 law which made Ukrainian the official language of the Ukraine as an attempt “to oust Russian-speaking people from their historically occupied territory.” He also argues that a July 2021 law on who constitutes the indigenous people of Ukraine as practically declaring that “Russians that have always lived in Ukraine were not an indigenous ethnicity.” He also states that the current and former presidents of Ukraine are influenced by “radical” and “Nazi” elements within Ukraine.

Additionally, according to Putin, Ukraine is instigating the violence in Donbas. Putin accuses the leadership of Ukraine of giving orders to shell Donbas daily and devolving such orders to “the warlords” and the “commanders on the ground,” exclaiming, “How dare they shell and bomb their own nationals?” Further, Putin states that Ukraine is proclaiming the separatists in Donbas as “terrorists,” rather than granting them autonomy as promised.

Putin also claims that it is the Ukraine that is threatening Russia, not the other way around. Putin also states that he is discussing with President Biden about “greater threats from Ukraine.”  According to Putin, Ukraine wants to turn Donbas into “an anti-Russia on [Ukraine’s] territory that will be injected and pumped with state-of-the-art arms” and that Ukraine would use this territory and arms to “prod the radicals to try to resort to a military option for the Donbas.”

Claim #3: Russia Will Be a Stabilizing Force in Ukraine (as It Was in the Past)

Putin implies that Donbas, like Crimea before it, can benefit from Russian intervention. Putin claimed that the reason why Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 was that “there was a bloody coup d’etat and people were killed” and that Russia had to protect the people of Crimea. Similarly, Putin stressed that Russia’s role in Donbas would be merely to serve “to mediate.” Putin alleges that despite Russia’s desire to serve as an “intermediary,” forces in the Ukraine “want to render us a party to the conflict.” In fact, Putin claims that in 2014, it was the Ukraine that wanted military conflict in Donbas, while it was Putin who tried to convince them otherwise. Putin is suggesting that it is Ukrainian aggression that will force Russia’s hand.

Claim #4: The West, Not Russia, Must Back Down

Putin insists that NATO expansion and western missiles are an additional cause of the crisis with Ukraine. Putin made clear that it is up to the West, not Russia, to resolve the conflict.

Key to the conflict’s resolution (and in influencing Russia’s actions), according to Putin, is NATO halting its expansion eastward, which according to Putin, the Biden administration is open to discuss. “We have … said that we want no expansion of NATO eastward, and the ball is in their [the Biden administration’s] court and they should respond … American partners have stated that they are willing to wade into this discussion…”

Putin also questioned why Russia is being labelled an aggressor, as Russia is not deploying missiles close to the U.S., while the U.S. is “deploying missiles close to our home, on the porch of our house.” He asked what the U.S. would think if Russia deployed missiles close to the U.S./Canada or U.S./Mexico border. Of course with this logic, the former head of the KGB is memory-holing Russia’s invasion of Crimea, support of Russian separatists, and its recent troop buildup.

Claim #5: Russia and China Are Thick as Thieves

Additionally, at the news conference, Putin used a question from the CCP-run Xinhua News Agency to showcase growing China-Russia relations, calling it “an unparalleled strategic partnership that has no equal in global history.” He stated that President Xi and Putin “call each other friends and have a good personal contact.” Putin also spoke to the two countries’ cooperation in nuclear and hi-tech and space exploration. In security cooperation, Putin stated that “the Chinese army receives a lot of state-of-the-art Russian weaponry, and we have been together designing hi-tech arms,” in addition to working together in joint maneuvers, international combat games, and joint patrols.

Claim #6: Russia Will Go Carbon Neutral (or Not), With China as Buyer

On carbon neutrality, Putin said both yes and no, but either way with China as a partner. Putin stated that while both countries “honor our commitments to reach carbon neutrality by 2060,” he admitted that before 2060 Russia “will be supplying all types of energy resources to China.” After 2060, Putin cryptically predicted that “history will not end and carbon neutrality may be obtained differently,” making it clear that Russia is really not committed to carbon neutrality.

In the press conference, Putin shows that he is keeping his options open on Ukraine. While not quite telegraphing a desire for invasion outright, his portrayal of Ukraine as an illegitimate aggressor is certainly setting the stage for making a case for invasion at the time of Putin’s choosing. Furthermore, his growing alliance with China, of which he is quite proud, should certainly cause concern for the West. Only time will tell if Putin will capitalize on his strong position.

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