MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened to completely cut energy supplies to the West if it tries to cap prices of Russian exports. He also vowed to press on with Moscow's military action in Ukraine until it achieves its goals.
Speaking at an annual economic forum in the far-eastern port city of Vladivostok, Putin scoffed at the EU plans for a cap on Russian oil and gas prices as a “stupid" idea that "will only lead to a hike in prices.”
“An attempt to limit prices by administrative means is just ravings, it’s sheer nonsense,” Putin said. “If they try to implement that dumb decision, it will entail nothing good for those who will make it."
He warned that such a move by the EU would represent a clear breach of the existing conracts, saying that Russia could respond by turning off the faucets.
“Will they make political decisions violating the contracts?" he said. "In that case, we will just halt supplies if it contradicts our economic interests. We won’t supply any gas, oil, diesel oil or coal.”
The Russian leader charged that Russia will easily find enough customers in Asia to shift its energy exports away from Europe. "The demand is so high on global markets that we won’t have any problem selling it,” he said.
Putin added that “those who try to enforce something on us aren’t in a position today to dictate their will,” pointing at protests in the West against rising energy prices.
Just hours before it was due to resume natural gas deliveries to Germany on Friday after a three-day stoppage for repairs, Russia's state-controlled Gazprom gas giant claimed it couldn’t do so until oil leaks in turbines are fixed. German officials and engineers refuted that claim.
The Kremlin blamed the suspension of supplies on Western sanctions against Gazprom, charging that they hamper normal maintenance of the pipeline's equipment and signaling that supplies may not resume until the restrictions are lifted. EU officials rejected the claim as a cover for a political power play.
Putin dismissed the EU’s argument that Russia was using energy as a weapon by suspending gas supplies via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Germany, charging that the sanctions made the pipeline turbine unsafe to operate. “They have driven themselves into deadlock with sanctions,” he said.
He repeated that Moscow stands ready to start pumping gas “as early as tomorrow” through the Nord Stream 2, which has been put on hold by the German authorities.
Turning to Ukraine, Putin declared again that the main goal behind sending troops into Ukraine was protecting civilians after eight years of fighting in the country's east.
“It wasn't us who started the military action, we are trying to put an end to it,” Putin said, repeating his long-held argument that he ordered the military action to protect Moscow-backed separatist regions in Ukraine, which have fought Ukrainian forces in the conflict that erupted in 2014 following Russia's annexation of Crimea.
“All our action has been aimed at helping people living in the Donbas, it's our duty and we will fulfill it until the end,” he said. “In the longer run, it will help strengthen our country both domestically and internationally.”
Putin emphasized that Russia will keep protecting its sovereignty in the face of what he described as an attempt by the U.S. and its allies to preserve their global domination, saying that “the world mustn’t be founded on the diktat of one country that deemed itself the representative of the almighty or even higher and based its policies on its perceived exclusivity.”
The Russian leader acknowledged that the national economy will shrink by 2% this year, but said that the economic and financial situation in Russia has stabilized, consumer prices inflation has slowed down and unemployment has remained low.
“Russia has resisted the economic, financial and technological aggression of the West,” Putin said. “There has been a certain polarization in the world and inside the country, but I view it as a positive thing. Everything unnecessary, harmful, everything that has prevented us from going forward will be rejected."
Commenting on scores of critical media outlets being forced to shut down after the start of the military campaign in Ukraine following the passage of a new law that criminalized any reporting on military action that differs from the official line, Putin said their reporters were happy to leave the country.
“They were always working against our country while they were here, and now they happily moved out," he said.
Russia's top independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, was among the outlets that were forced to shut down under official pressure. On Monday, a court in Moscow upheld a motion from Russian authorities to revoke its license.
Dmitry Muratov, Nobel Peace Prize-winning editor-in-chief of the newspaper, called the ruling on Monday “political” and “not having the slightest legal basis.”
Putin sought to slight Muratov's prize, describing it as politically driven and, in a side jab, compared it to the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Barack Obama while he was the U.S. president.
"We had business-like relations with President Obama, but what did they give him the Nobel prize for?" Putin said. “What did he do to help protect peace? I mean military operations in some regions of the world the president conducted.”
Commenting on the European Union's decision to make it harder for Russian citizens to enter the 27-nation bloc, Putin said that Russia won't respond in kind and will continue to welcome visitors.
“We aren't going to halt contacts, and those who do it, they isolate themselves and not us,” he said.
Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press