In a documentary aired on Russian state television on Sunday, President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of supporting Islamic militants in the Northern Caucasus region and suggested that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last year was a form of “historic justice.”
The documentary, The President, aired on the Rossiya One television network and was billed as a look back at the 15 years since Putin became the most powerful man in Russia. The film was based around an interview with Putin in which he discussed some of the highs and lows of his time in office.
Among his most painful memories, Putin said, were two events associated with the aftermath of uprisings in the Northern Caucasus, which the Kremlin put down brutally in 1996 and again in 2000. In 2002, Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theater in an operation that wound up costing the lives of a large number of people when security services staged a rescue operation. Two years later, Chechen rebels seized a school in the town of Beslan in an attack that left more than 300 dead, including nearly 200 children.
In the interview, Putin accused the U.S. — which had recently suffered the 9/11 attacks, also by Islamic militants — of supporting the Chechen rebels.
“At one point our secret services simply detected direct contacts between militants from the North Caucasus and representatives of the United States secret services in Azerbaijan,” he said in the interview. “Someone over there, especially the West's intelligence services, obviously thought that if they act to destabilize their main geopolitical rival, which, as we now understand, in their eyes has always been Russia, it would be good for them. It turned out, it wasn't.”
Asked about Russia’s takeover of the Ukraine in 2014, Putin said: “I think we did the right things, and I don’t regret about anything. The main thing for us was to understand what the people living in Crimea wanted. Did they want to stay in Ukraine or to be together with Russia?”
Honoring what he claimed were the wishes of ethnic Russians in Crimea, he said, was “a matter of paramount importance. Not because we want to grab or eat up something and not even because of Crimea’s strategic significance for the Black Sea region. Simply, this is an element of historic justice.”
Putin said that the consequences for Russia, including harsh international economic sanctions that were tightened after Moscow began supporting armed rebels in eastern Ukraine, were not a long-term problem.
“This policy of Russia’s containment has been known for centuries,” he said. “There’s nothing new to it and there’s no reason for us to feel distressed.”
On Monday, meanwhile, Putin took another not-so-veiled shot at the U.S., which spearheaded efforts to cut Russia off from global financial markets after last year’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. That made it very difficult for Russia to refinance its debt, among other things.
Speaking in St. Petersburg, Putin referred to unspecified countries he called Russia’s “quasi-partners,” saying that they had sought the ruin of the Russian economy but had been disappointed.
“Apparently someone was counting on some sort of collapse,” he said. “No collapse happened. The Russian economy is easily overcoming these artificial barriers.”
Some might debate Putin’s conclusions. The Russian economy is headed into recession, and its citizens are dealing with double-digit inflation and a ruble that, despite some gains this year, is still far weaker in terms of purchasing power than it was a year ago.
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