Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday made a defiant if improbable declaration to Western leaders determined to punish him for the invasion of Ukraine: Russia, he said, has not only suffered no losses, but it is also profiting from a reordered world.
Addressing an economic conference in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Mr. Putin had nothing to say about the crushing losses his military has taken after nearly seven months of fighting in Ukraine. And while he acknowledged the existence of the sanctions imposed against Moscow, he was dismissive toward them, if not contemptuous.
“We have not lost anything, and will not lose anything,” Mr. Putin said.
If anything, he contended, the invasion has raised Moscow’s international stature and offered it an opportunity to purge Russia of “harmful” elements at home.
His assertions were sharply at odds with the significant contraction in Russia’s economy and with Western estimates that as many as 80,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and troops have been killed and swaths of cities, towns and villages leveled.
Mr. Putin was equally dismissive of Western attempts to cut Russia off from the world, taking the opportunity to announce that he would be meeting with China’s leader, Xi Jinping — an increasingly important ally — next week.
“No matter how much someone wants to isolate Russia, it is impossible to do,” he said. “You just need to look at the map.”
The severing of economic ties with Western countries after its invasion of Ukraine has pushed Russia into a speedy reorientation of its economy toward Asia, most of all China, making a meeting with Mr. Xi particularly important. The Kremlin has also sought to solidify relationships with Iran, India and other nations.
While Beijing has not outright endorsed the Russian invasion, it has echoed Kremlin talking points and described the United States as the “main instigator.” It has also provided Russia with much-needed economic support as a buyer of energy exports that are now shunned in the West, and as a supplier of everything from cars to smartphones as European and American companies pull out of Russia.
Mr. Putin said Wednesday that Moscow and Beijing had agreed on the main parameters of a new pipeline to China, which will be fed by gas from Siberian fields that was once intended for European countries. “Our Chinese friends are difficult negotiators,” Mr. Putin said. “However, they are stable and reliable partners and the market is colossal.”
The State of the War
- Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant: After United Nations inspectors visited the Russian-controlled facility last week amid continuing shelling and fears of a looming nuclear catastrophe, the organization released a report calling for Russia and Ukraine to halt all military activity around the complex.
- An Expanding Military: Though President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a sharp increase in the size of Russia’s armed forces, he seems reluctant to declare a draft. Here is why.
- Russia’s Military Supplies: According to newly declassified American intelligence, Russia is buying millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea — a sign that global sanctions have severely restricted its supply chains and forced Moscow to turn to pariah states.
- Far From the War: Though much of Russia’s effort on the battlefield has not gone as Mr. Putin had planned, at home he has mostly succeeded in shielding Russians from the hardships of war — no draft, no mass funerals, no feelings of loss or conflict.
Chinese officials did not immediately confirm that Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi would meet next week, at a summit of Asian leaders in Uzbekistan. An in-person meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi — who has not left China since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 — could offer further evidence of a Chinese-Russian alliance.
Western leaders have remained largely unified in the face of Russian aggression, despite the economic pain tied to the jolting energy prices and sanctions, and worries about social unrest. But there were signs this week that Mr. Putin might be winning over new audiences.
The United States and its allies have portrayed the war as a battle to uphold international law. But much of the world, including China, India and large parts of Africa and Latin America, either supports Russia or sees the war as a superpower conflict that it wants no part of.
New polling conducted in 22 countries across the globe shows a wide divergence in popular support for Ukraine. The pollsters, who surveyed more than 21,400 people, found that 56 percent of respondents in India, 54 percent in Nigeria and 49 percent in South Africa agreed that Russia is “justified in wanting to have greater influence over its neighbor Ukraine.”
By contrast, 78 percent in Britain and 58 percent in both France and the United States disagreed, though in Germany, that figure was only 53 percent. And perhaps more striking, only 22 percent of respondents in the United States listed Ukraine as a top three global issue, despite enormous American financial and military aid for Kyiv.
The polls were commissioned by the Open Society Foundations, a grant network.
At the economic conference Wednesday, Mr. Putin seemed intent on radiating unshakable confidence that the West’s efforts to isolate Moscow were doomed to fail. He portrayed Russia’s crackdown on dissent, which has led to nearly 16,500 arrests and motivated tens of thousands of Russians to leave the country, as a national cleansing, though he did acknowledge the schisms that have opened since the invasion.
“Of course, a certain polarization is taking place — both in the world and within the country — but I believe that this will only be beneficial,” Mr. Putin said. “Because everything that is unnecessary, harmful and everything that prevents us from moving forward will be rejected.”
His rosy portrayal of how his country is faring both economically and militarily was at odds with Western assessments.
Harsh sanctions against the Kremlin and its allies that were imposed soon after the full-scale invasion began, on Feb. 24, have taken a heavy toll on the Russian economy, Western experts say.
Even Russian policymakers have said that it will take years for Russia’s economy to rebound to prewar levels and that its growth will be hampered as long as Western sanctions are in place. Many analysts also predict further shocks as European countries press ahead with plans to sharply reduce purchases of Russian oil by the end of the year.
Mr. Putin’s remarks came as his forces face an increasingly difficult situation at the front lines in Ukraine, where they have been unable to capture a major town for more than two months. Ukraine is mounting a counteroffensive that its officials contend is showing initial signs of success.
An attack in northeastern Ukraine this week suggested that Ukrainian forces may be trying to exploit a redeployment by Russia, to defensive positions in the south, by attacking near the city of Kharkiv.
Ukrainian forces “likely drove Russian forces back” from around the town of Balakliya, outside Kharkiv, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research group, said in a report on Tuesday night. Yuri Kotenok, a Russian military correspondent known for his proximity to Russian forces, on Telegram described “tough fights” taking place.
On Wednesday, with Europe facing a potentially a devastating energy crisis, the European Commission said it would ask countries to approve a broad cap on the price of Russian gas. It is also proposing measures like mandatory cuts in electricity use, a tax on oil and gas companies, and a tax on the price of electricity generated by renewables.
Russia has turned the gas tap on and off to punish European countries, primarily Germany, for supporting Ukraine, blaming the widespread disruptions on technical problems and maintenance.
Reporting was contributed by Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Steven Erlanger, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Eric Nagourney.