Speaking at a discussion with Western academics in the southern Russian city of Sochi on Thursday, President Putin listed Moscow’s many grievances against the West.
Asked by a Germany-based academic about what Russia’s biggest mistake had been in its relations with the West, the Russian president said putting too much trust in Western countries, which he said had not been reciprocated.
Unreciprocated trust — too much of it
“Our biggest mistake was that we trusted you too much. You interpreted our trust as weakness and you exploited that,” Putin said.
“From the Russian side unprecedented openness and trust were demonstrated,” Putin said, explaining that, through the 1990s, about 100 US officials had been given the right to conduct surprise inspections of Russian nuclear facilities.
“What we got in return is well-known: a complete disregard for our national interests, support for separatism in the Caucasus, a circumvention of the United Nations Security Council, the bombing of Yugoslavia, the invasion of Iraq, and so on. The US must have seen the state of our nuclear weapons and economy and decided to do away with international law,” he said.
The former Soviet Union and the United States were considered the two superpowers of the bipolar world that emerged after the Second World War. They engaged in a series of politico-strategic, economic, and military rivalries after 1945 that became known as the Cold War.
Putin said Western countries self-righteously proclaimed themselves victors after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.
“They started to openly interfere in the sovereign affairs of countries and to export democracy in the same way as in their time the Soviet leadership tried to export the Socialist revolution to the whole world,” he said.
‘Unprecedented anti-Russia campaign in US’
The Russian president specifically castigated the US for plunging relations with Russia to new lows. He said an “unprecedented” anti-Russia campaign was ongoing in the US, referring to the closure of Russian diplomatic facilities and restrictions on Russian media in America.
The US State Department announced in early September that several Russian diplomatic perimeters, namely a consulate building in San Francisco, a Russian consular annex in New York City, and a chancery annex in Washington DC, had to be shut down.
Earlier, in late 2016, the administration of former President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats “over espionage” and closed two Russian diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland over the accusation that Moscow interfered in the US presidential election in November 2016.
Moscow has denied the allegation and has repeatedly called for the diplomatic perimeters to be returned.
Furthermore, US authorities have introduced restrictions on the Russian media operating in the US, limiting their broadcasts and terminating existing contracts.
In his Thursday remarks, Putin said the latest anti-Russia sanctions passed at the US Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in August were meant to squeeze Russia out of European energy markets.
The Russian president also had a warning for the US, which under Trump has shown a tendency to unilaterally withdraw from bilateral and international accords.
If the United States withdrew from a landmark arms control treaty — the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty — Russia would respond quickly, he said.
“From our side, the response will be instant, and I want to warn, symmetrical,” Putin said.