Putin blasts US in speech, blaming West for conflict in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted the U.S. in a speech Friday, blaming the West for the conflict in Ukraine and weakening global and regional security.

In a 40-minute fiery speech to a political group in Sochi, Putin argued that the U.S. has made the world a more dangerous place by imposing a “unilateral diktat” in international diplomacy, Reuters reports.

Putin dismissed recent accusations that Russia was trying to expand its power in the region.

"Statements that Russia is trying to reinstate some sort of empire, that it is encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbors, are groundless," Putin told the group.

Addressing the group of political scholars — called the Valdai Club — at a resort in Sochi, the Russian leader suggested the U.S is an instigator, saying Washington is trying to “remake the whole world” around its own interests. In combative rhetoric broadcast live on state television, the Russian leader said the "so-called" winners of the Cold War want a new world order that suits only them.

He said the risk of international conflicts was growing, but Moscow is not to blame.

"We did not start this," Putin said.

Putin pointed to a growing threat of arms control treaties being violated and called for talks on internationally acceptable conditions for the use of force.

Putin criticized what he suggested was arbitrary foreign interference in internal affairs of other countries, listing a series of conflicts in which he faulted U.S. actions, including Iraq, Syria and Libya. Putin asked whether Washington's policies had strengthened peace and democracy.

"No," he declared. "The unilateral diktat and the imposing of schemes (on others) have exactly the opposite effect."

He also dismissed U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed over Moscow’s role in annexing the Crimea peninsula and escalating fighting in Ukraine by helping pro-Russian separatists, suggesting they were not effective

"Russia will not be posturing, get offended, ask someone for anything. Russia is self-sufficient," he said.

The speech included little on Russia's human rights and democracy record, or the decline of Russia's $2 trillion economy, which is in danger of sliding into recession as its currency falters along with the price of oil, its main export.

Putin has shifted blame for Russia’s economic woes onto global problems, sanctions and oil prices.

Meanwhile, a NATO military commander said Friday that Russia still has troops in eastern Ukraine and still maintains a capable force on the border, despite Moscow announcing a partial withdrawal of troops.

"Make no mistake, there remain Russian forces inside eastern Ukraine," U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove told reporters at NATO's military headquarters in Belgium.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia remained in violation of international law in Ukraine.

"They are still violating the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine by having Russian forces in Ukraine," Stoltenberg told reporters.

NATO has suspended practical cooperation with Russia in protest against Moscow's annexation of Crimea and its support for the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. NATO has called on Russia to withdraw its forces both from inside Ukraine and from the border and to use its influence in the region to ensure the cease fire in eastern Ukraine was respected, Stoltenberg said.

"We need to find a political solution to the challenges we see in Ukraine and a pre-condition for that is of course to have an effective cease fire," he said.

Ukrainians will vote in parliamentary elections Sunday to determine whether President Petro Poroshenko will be able to carry out his plan to end the separatist conflict and pursue integration with mainstream Europe.