President Vladimir Putin has lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago as the demise of what he called “historical Russia” and said the economic crisis that followed was so bad he was forced to moonlight as a taxi driver.
Putin’s comments, released by state TV on Sunday, are likely to further fuel speculation about his foreign policy intentions among critics, who accuse him of planning to recreate the Soviet Union and of contemplating an attack on Ukraine, a notion the Kremlin has dismissed as fear-mongering.
“It was a disintegration of historical Russia under the name of the Soviet Union,” Putin said of the 1991 breakup, in comments aired on Sunday as part of a documentary film called “Russia. New History,” the RIA state news agency reported.
“We turned into a completely different country. And what had been built up over 1,000 years was largely lost,” said Putin, saying 25 million Russian people in newly independent countries suddenly found themselves cut off from Russia, part of what he called “a major humanitarian tragedy.”
Putin also described for the first time how he was affected personally by the tough economic times that followed the Soviet collapse, when Russia suffered double-digit inflation.
“Sometimes (I) had to moonlight and drive a taxi. It is unpleasant to talk about this but, unfortunately, this also took place,” the president said.
Putin, who served in the Soviet-era KGB, has previously called the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was ruled from Moscow, as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, but his new comments show how he viewed it specifically as a setback for Russian power.
Ukraine was one of 15 Soviet republics and Putin used a lengthy article published on the Kremlin website this year to set out why he believed Russia’s southern neighbour and its people were an integral part of Russian history and culture. This view is rejected by Kyiv as a politically motivated and over-simplified version of history.
The West has accused Russia of massing 175,000 troops near Ukraine in preparation for a possible attack as soon as January. The G7 warned Moscow on Sunday of massive consequences and severe costs if it attacked Ukraine. Moscow says the expansion of NATO threatens Russia and has contravened assurances given to it as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
© Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images Ukrainian soldiers walk past destroyed buildings on the front line on Dec. 8, 2021 in Marinka. A buildup of Russian troops along the border has heightened worries that Putin intends to invade the Donbas region, most of which is held by separatists.
The Kremlin has said Russia has no plans to launch a fresh attack on Ukraine and that the West appears to have convinced itself of Moscow’s aggressive intentions based on what it calls false Western media stories.
The Kremlin on Sunday said that Putin told U.S. President Joe Biden that Russian troops posed no threat and that Moscow was being demonized for moving troops around its own territory. Putin and Biden have agreed to hold more talks, Moscow said.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and has backed separatists who took control of a swath of eastern Ukraine that same year and who continue to fight Ukrainian government forces.
The G7 said in a statement that “Russia should be in no doubt that further military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe cost in response.
“We reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the right of any sovereign state to determine its own future.”
A statement released by the Russian Embassy in London on Saturday evening, before the joint G7 document was reported, said that Britain’s frequent use of the phrase “Russian aggression” during the Liverpool meeting was misleading and designed to create a cause for the G7 to rally round.
“Russia has made numerous offers to NATO on ways to decrease tensions. The G7 forum could be an opportunity to discuss them, but so far we hear nothing but aggressive slogans,” the embassy statement said.
For Moscow, the growing NATO embrace of a neighbouring former Soviet republic — and what it sees as the nightmare possibility of alliance missiles in Ukraine targeted against Russia — is a “red line” it will not allow to be crossed.
Putin has demanded legally binding security guarantees that NATO will not expand farther east or place its weapons close to Russian territory; Washington has repeatedly said no country can veto Ukraine’s NATO hopes.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia could not exert its sphere of influence over Ukraine.
“If we let that go with impunity, then the entire system that provides for stability, prevents war from breaking out, is in danger,” he told NBC News in a post-summit interview on Sunday.
Source: NATIONAL POST