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Putin's big press conference, debunked

by Chris York June 7, 2024 8:12 PM 7 min read
Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on the economic issues via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia on April 11, 2023. (Gavriil Grigorov / Sputnik / AFP)
by Chris York June 7, 2024 8:12 PM 7 min read
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Russian President Vladimir Putin held a now-rare press conference with senior editors from international media outlets on June 5. Putin blamed Ukraine and the West for Russia's war crimes, and made a new round of threats and jaw-dropping lies.

The Kyiv Independent examines some of the more notable statements.

'World has lost its mind'

Before Putin began taking questions from journalists, he engaged in some light back-and-forth with the director general of Russian state media TASS, Andrei Kondrashov, who was hosting the event.

Noting this was the first time Putin had met with international media editors in some time, Kondrashov said that since the last such event "many of the countries they represent have suddenly become unfriendly towards Russia."

"This will perhaps be the first meeting amid such international tensions," he said, adding: "It looks like the world has lost its mind, that someone is intentionally pushing it towards a catastrophe."

What Kondrashov failed to mention was that since the last such event, Russia launched its unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the biggest land war in  Europe since World War II which has killed tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians, reduced Ukrainian towns and cities to rubble.

In its latest guise, Russia destroyed civilian infrastructure to such an extent that Ukrainians face "life in the cold and the dark" for the foreseeable future.

Misplaced optimism

Putin began by apologizing for being late to the event, a regular occurrence employed by the Russian president in an attempt to assert dominance over people including Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, the Financial Times and, most recently, right-wing TV host Tucker Carlson.

"It is very difficult to escape from the grip of Gazprom CEO, who tells you everything about every element and infects you with his optimism," Putin said.

While the content of Putin's meeting with Alexey Miller was not made public, a recent report commissioned by Gazprom painted a far from "optimistic" picture.

The company will not be able to recover losses incurred from Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine for at least 10 years, it said.

Western sanctions have increasingly targeted the Russian oil and gas industry, whose profits fuel the Kremlin's war machine in Ukraine. The European Union pledged to reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels in the wake of the 2022 invasion, leading to a 71% drop in gas imports from 2021 to 2024.

Ukraine's non-existent army

Putin made a rare statement about Russian troops losses during the event, and while he didn't mention specific numbers, he claimed they are "certainly significantly smaller than those of the opposite party."

"As for irretrievable losses, the ratio is one to five," he added.

Moscow didn't release any estimates of the losses suffered by their Armed Forces since 2022, though the consensus among Western governments and analysts is that Russian losses figures released by the Ukrainian government are broadly accurate.

According to Ukraine's General Staff, the number of killed or wounded Russian soldiers since the start of the full-scale invasion passed the grim milestone of 500,000 last month, and on June 6 stood at 515,000.

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Putin said that Ukraine is losing "up to 50,000 soldiers" each month, meaning that according to the Russian president Ukraine has up to 1.3 million soldiers dead or wonded since February 2022.

Given Ukraine's total military personnel numbers around 1 million, this would mean every single member of Ukraine's Armed Forces was dead or wounded.

In February, President Volodymyr Zelensky said 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the start of the all-out war. He did not say how many had been wounded.

According to estimates by U.S. officials, Ukrainian casualties might be higher than those mentioned by Zelensky in February, however, independent verification is impossible.

The nuclear threat

Once again, Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons and provided a justification for it.

"For some reason, the West believes that Russia will never use it," he said.

"We have a nuclear doctrine, look what it says. If someone's actions threaten our sovereignty and territorial integrity, we consider it possible for us to use all means at our disposal. This should not be taken lightly, superficially."

This is not the first time Putin or other senior Russian officials have threatened to use nuclear weapons.

In February 2022, three days after the launch of the full-scale invasion, Putin said he had put Russian nuclear forces on “special combat readiness.” The U.S. later said it had observed no change in the status of Russian nuclear forces.

In April 2022, when it was clear the Kremlin's invasion wasn't going according to plan and Western nations ramped up military support to Ukraine, Putin hinted Russia would use nuclear weapons if "someone from the outside tries to intervene in Ukraine."

In September 2022, Putin threatened outright to use nuclear weapons, saying in a televised speech: "I'm not bluffing."

In January 2023, Parliament Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said continued supplies of Western weapons to Ukraine could be met with a nuclear response if they are used to "seize our territories." Just a few months before, Ukraine had already used Western weapons to help liberate swathes of Ukraine annexed by Putin just weeks earlier.

In June 2023, Putin announced the first tactical nuclear weapons to be stationed in Belarus.

In February 2024, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, threatened to use nuclear weapons against the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and Ukraine if Moscow loses all occupied Ukrainian territories.

It's just one of several times Medvedev has made such threats, most recently on May 31 when he insisted he was "not bluffing."

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Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, the Kremlin has sought to play the nuclear card – both to frighten Ukraine and to deter the West from assisting. Kyiv and its partners cannot ignore Moscow’s nuclear threats, but they should understand that the Russian leadership does not

Fourth biggest economy

According to Russian state media outlet TASS, Putin said that Western sanctions against Russia had failed and "the goal he set for the country to enter the top four economies of the world has been achieved."

It's not true by all accounts.

According to the 2024 predictions by the International Monetary Fund, Russia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the 11th largest in the world and sixth based on the purchasing power parity (PPP).

PPP compares the economies of different countries by comparing the costs of a set basket of goods. It does not take into account factors such as local costs, taxes, tariffs, and other measures usually used to determine the strength of a country's economy.

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In the landmark 2003 economic study "Burgernomics," the authors noted that PPP is not a good reflection of reality.

Additionally, the Kremlin hides a significant amount of economic data.

"Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes that turning Russia into a black box will help support his claims that sanctions do not work, confusing Western policymakers, journalists, and citizens," Foreign Policy noted in a March 2023 piece titled "Don't trust Russian numbers."

Good intentions

In a particularly passionate section of the event, Putin said the idea that Russia would attack a NATO country was "rubbish."

Russia made similar claims in the months, weeks and even days leading up to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Putin also insisted Russia had no "imperial ambitions."

According to the online encyclopedia Britannica, imperialism is defined as: "State policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas."

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