MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, in a ranting speech before a presidential election campaign, cast Moscow’s military action in Ukraine as an existential battle against purported attempts by the West to destroy Russia.
Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades and is the longest-serving Russian leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, is expected to soon declare his intention to seek another six-year term in a presidential election next March.
“We are defending the security and well-being of our people, the highest, historical right to be Russia — a strong, independent power, a country-civilization,” Putin said, accusing the U.S. and its allies of trying to “dismember and plunder” Russia.
Ukraine and its Western allies have condemned the Russian action against Ukraine as an unprovoked act of aggression.
“We are now fighting for the freedom of not only Russia, but the whole world,” Putin said in a speech to participants of a meeting organized by the Russian Orthodox Church.
He denounced what he described as Western “Russophobia,” claiming that “our diversity and unity of cultures, traditions, languages, and ethnic groups simply don’t fit into the logic of Western racists and colonialists, into their cruel scheme of total depersonalization, disunity, suppression and exploitation.”
“If they can’t do it by force, they will try to sow strife,” he said, vowing to block “any outside interference, provocations with the aim of causing interethnic or interreligious conflicts as aggressive actions against our country, as an attempt to once again foment terrorism and extremism in Russia as a tool to fight us.”
Russian authorities have intensified their crackdown on dissent amid the fighting in Ukraine, arresting and imprisoning protesters and activists and silencing independent news outlets.
Putin said that the U.S.-dominated global order has become increasingly decrepit, declaring that “it is our country that is now at the forefront of creating a more equitable world order.”
“And I want to emphasize: without a sovereign, strong Russia, no lasting, stable world order is possible,” he said.
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