Russian President Vladimir Putin railed against “illegitimate sanctions” from the West amid his country’s invasion of Ukraine in a pre-recorded video message Tuesday at an economic conference in South Africa.
The conference of BRICS nations — a group of developing states comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — was the first since 2019. Putin chose not to attend in person because he is wanted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.
The West is implementing “illegitimate sanctions practice and illegal freezing of assets of sovereign states, which essentially amounts to them trampling upon all the basic norms and rules of free trade,” Putin said.
The Russian leader focused his 17-minute speech on relationships with the West and the war in Ukraine, namely an international grain deal that Russia halted last month. The Black Sea Grain Initiative previously allowed Ukrainian grain to be exported from the country, bolstering international food stocks and the Ukrainian economy.
Putin said the West wasn’t holding up its side of the bargain and continued harsh sanctions.
“With these facts in mind, since July 18 we have refused to extend the so-called deal,” Putin said. “We will be ready to get back to it, but only if all the obligations to the Russian side are truly fulfilled.”
The move to pull out of the deal was followed by days of missile and drone strikes on the city of Odesa and its port facilities, the largest in the country.
Human rights advocates and Western governments have criticized the move to leave the deal, noting that it will have a significant impact on global grain supplies.
“So the result of Russia’s action today — weaponizing food, using it as a tool, as a weapon in its war against Ukraine — will be to make food harder to come by in places that desperately need it, and have prices rise,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month. “We’re already seeing the market react to this as prices are going up.”
“The bottom line is it’s unconscionable. It should not happen. This should be restored as quickly as possible. And I hope that every country is watching this very closely,” he continued.
The war in Ukraine has slowed since its outset a year and a half ago. Ukraine’s long-expected counteroffensive this summer has disappointed Western allies, despite continued material and financial support.
However, the White House still views the war as progressing, national security adviser Jack Sullivan said Tuesday.
“We do not assess that the conflict is a stalemate,” he said. “There is attacking and defending taking place on both sides at multiple points along a very extended front line of trace.”
The speech also featured a 15-second clip in which Putin appeared to have an altered voice, for unknown reasons.
Putin is under scrutiny again Wednesday after reports claim Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a plane crash in Russia. President Biden said Putin could be responsible and that the crash could have been intentional.
Prigozhin briefly led his mercenary army against the Russian military leadership in June before leaving the country.
“There’s not much that happens in Russia that Putin’s not behind,” Biden told reporters. “But I don’t know enough to know the answer.”
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