Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of starting the war and said Russia “used force to stop it” in an address to Parliament today.
It marks the first time the Russian President has referred to the conflict as a war rather than a “special military operation”.
Putin made the claim in his State of the Nation address to the joint houses of the Russian parliament at 9am UK-time on Tuesday (21 February).
In a speech in front of politicians, state officials and soldiers who have fought in Ukraine, he said: “I would like to repeat, it’s they started the war, and we used force in order to stop it”. He then claimed that Kyiv held talks with the West about weapons supplies before the war began, adding: “I would like to emphasise when Russia tried to find a peaceful solution they were playing with the lives of people and they were playing a dirty game.”
Putin went on to lay the blame for the war with the West saying they "let the genie out of the bottle" and plunged the world into chaos. He said: "Human sacrifice and tragedies are not accounted by them... They must carry on stealing from everyone, disguising themselves with slogans of democracy and freedom."
He also accused the West of "opening the way" for Nazis to take power in the 1930s, adding that since the 19th century the West has tried to tear the historical lands from our country - "what is now called Ukraine".
Putin says that Russia wants to "protect its people and history" by conducting a “special military operation step-by-step”, before accusing the West of wanting "infinite power" and warning that Moscow will “continue to resolve the objectives that are before us”.
He claims that the Ukrainian people had become “hostages of their western masters” who occupied the country in political, economic and military terms, stating that “the regime is not serving their national interest. They are serving the interests of foreign powers.”
He also accused the West of trying to turn a local conflict into a global one, before warning that Russia “will react in an appropriate way”. He adds: “We are talking about the existence of our country.”
Putin said the West is aware “it is impossible to defeat Russia on the battlefield” so it launches “aggressive information attacks” by “misconstruing historical facts” attacking Russian culture, religion and values.
In another justification for the war, he claimed his forces are protecting civilians in regions of Ukraine that Moscow has since illegally annexed. He said: “We are defending people’s lives, our home. And the West is striving for an unlimited domination.”
The Russian leader has frequently justified his invasion of Ukraine by accusing western countries of threatening Russia - a claim they say could not be further from the truth, saying Moscow’s forces attacked Ukraine unprovoked.
Putin’s speech comes just a day after US President Joe Biden made his first visit to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last year. Biden said Putin was “dead wrong” to think the West’s support for Ukraine would not last, as he promised $500m worth of military aid to Ukraine and additional sanctions against Russian elites.
While the Constitution says the president should deliver the speech annually, Putin never gave one in 2022 as his troops rolled into Ukraine and suffered repeated setbacks. This year’s address comes days before the war’s first anniversary on Friday (24 February).
Before the speech, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader would focus on the “special military operation” in Ukraine, as Moscow calls it, and Russia’s economy and social issues. Many observers also expected the speech to address Moscow’s fallout with the West.
Underscoring the anticipation, some state TV channels put out a countdown for the event, while Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti said the address may be “historic”.
The Kremlin this year barred media from “unfriendly” countries, including the US, UK and those in the EU, with Mr Peskov stating that journalists from those nations would be able to cover the speech by watching the broadcast.