Putin says foes hope to dismember Russia; rouble falls as he speaks
MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin accused Russia's enemies on Thursday of seeking to carve it up and destroy its economy to punish it for growing strong, in an annual state of the union speech that seemed to outdo even his own recent strident nationalism.
The Kremlin leader trumpeted his annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, praised the Russian people for their strength, accused the West of "pure cynicism" in Ukraine and said economic sanctions must drive Russians to develop their own economy.
The rouble fell as he spoke to an ornate hall packed with dignitaries, delivering a speech that showed no sign of turning back from policies that have brought his country to confrontation with the West unseen since the Cold War.
Russia's "enemies of yesterday" wished on it the same fate as Yugoslavia in the 1990s, he said in the speech, which ran for more than an hour and was interrupted repeatedly by applause.
"There is no doubt they would have loved to see the Yugoslavia scenario of collapse and dismemberment for us - with all the tragic consequences it would have for the peoples of Russia. This has not happened. We did not allow it," he said.
So determined was the West to destroy Russia, he said, that sanctions would have been imposed even without the crisis in Ukraine.
"I am certain that if all this did not take place... they would come up with another reason to contain Russia's growing capabilities," he said. "Whenever anyone thinks Russia has become strong, they resort to this instrument."
Even when he pledged to keep Russia open to the world, he adopted an aggressive posture: "We will never pursue the path of self-isolation, xenophobia, suspicion and search for enemies. All this is a manifestation of weakness, while we are strong and self-confident."