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Putin Denounces U.S. 'Ultimatums' And Says Russia Not 'Aggressive'

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on a giant screen at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2015 (SPIEF 2015) on June 19.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on a giant screen at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2015 (SPIEF 2015) on June 19.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of trying to force its will on Moscow and insisted that Russia is not acting "aggressively" on the world stage.

Delivering a staunch defense of his foreign policy, Putin told an economic forum in St. Petersburg on June 19 that Washington is "constantly trying to impose its standards and decisions on us, without considering our understanding of our own interests."

"We are in fact being told that the United States knows better what we need," he said. "Let us define our own interests and our needs ourselves. We should not be spoken to in the language of ultimatums."

Putin's appearance before numerous Western investors comes amid Moscow's ongoing standoff with the West over Ukraine, where fighting between Kyiv's forces and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country has killed more than 6,400 people since April 2014.

Russia has struggled economically over the past year due in part to falling oil prices and Western sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow for its March 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea territory and Russia's role in the Ukraine conflict.

But Putin boasted that Russia had found the "inner strength" to prevent international sanctions over its role in the Ukraine conflict causing a deep economic crisis.

"I would like to point out that at the end of last year we were warned -- and you know this well -- that there would be a deep crisis," Putin said.

"It has not happened. We have stabilized the situation...mainly because the Russian economy piled up a sufficient supply of inner strength," he told an audience including foreign and Russian businessmen and members of the Russian government.

Moscow rejects accusations by Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments that it is supporting Ukrainian rebels with weapons, training, and personnel, despite mounting evidence of such involvement.

Putin sought to reassure Western investors at the St. Petersburg conference that Russia can offer a welcome climate for foreign capital, while rejecting accusations that the country is acting aggressively on the international stage.

“We are not being aggressive,” he said. "We are persistent. We are consistent in pursuing our interests."

Putin said Russia was dealing with its "difficulties" and that the country had averted a "deep crisis."

He thanked foreign investors who had remained in Russia despite the Western sanctions, which he said the government is responding to by making the country more "open" to business.

Occasionally Conciliatory Tone

Putin also reiterated his portrayal of the United States as a disruptive force in the world, painting Russia as a defender of global stability that remains "committed to adhering to the principles of international law."

Asked by the moderator to comment on Western accusations that Russia is provoking a new Cold War by backing pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine, Putin quickly segued to criticism of Washington for unilaterally withdrawing in 2002 from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

"The Cold War is not only the result of local conflicts but of global decisions as well, such as, for instance, the unilateral withdrawal by the United States from the ABM Treaty," he said.

Putin nonetheless struck a conciliatory tone at times during his speech and a subsequent Q&A session, saying that U.S.-Russian cooperation in some "spheres" is "not bad, in general."

"I expect that this will serve as a basis that will allow us to restore the former level of ties with the U.S. and move on," he said.

Putin also addressed global security issues, including Russia and other world powers' nuclear negotiations with Iran and the continuing civil war in Syria, where Moscow has backed the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Putin said he hoped Iran and the so-called P5+1 -- consisting of Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany -- would reach a final agreement soon on Tehran's nuclear program, which Western governments fear is aimed at a bomb-making capability.

He also said Russia's backing for Assad was driven by concerns that any forcible overthrow of the president would plunge his war-shattered country into even deeper disarray.

An estimated 220,000 people have died in the four-year-old conflict between rebel groups and forces loyal to Assad.

Washington has accused Russia of hindering a political settlement of the war by supporting Assad, who U.S. officials say has lost all legitimacy and must leave power to ensure a peaceful transition in the country.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, TASS, AFP, and AP
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