Russia's President Vladimir Putin has drawn a positive conclusion of the economic development after more than a year of war. "The strategy that the state and business have chosen worked," said the Kremlin boss during his appearance at the Petersburg Economic Forum - even if the second quarter of the previous year was particularly difficult due to the changes.
According to his forecast, economic growth this year will be 1.5 to 2 percent, and inflation will be lower than in the euro zone. Putin also justified the deficit in the federal budget. The minus is due to early government infrastructure spending. In addition, the Kremlin chief also admitted higher spending in the armaments sector.
Russia weathered the exodus of Western companies well. Russian companies quickly filled the niches that had become free, Putin said. State policy is now aimed at protecting the local economy. At the same time, he assured that Russia would not close its doors to foreign investors.
After the start of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, Western states introduced sanctions against Russia. Many foreign companies also left Russia after the outbreak of war.
Putin wants to raise the minimum wage by 18.5 percent
Putin announced an 18.5 percent increase in Russia's minimum wage. "On January 1, 2024 we will make another increase - and 18.5 percent (...), which is well above the rate of inflation and rising salaries overall," said the Kremlin chief. Inflation in Russia is currently 2.9 percent.
In addition, Putin promised to pay mothers child benefits up to the age of 1.5 years - regardless of whether the mother has gone back to work or stayed at home in the meantime. The social promises also serve to reassure one's own population. As a rule, Putin hardly or not at all mentions the massive crises that parts of the Russian economy - above all the automobile industry - have been going through since the beginning of the war.
Putin insults Zelenskyy
Putin insulted the Ukrainian head of state Volodymyr Zelenskyj. "I have many Jewish friends since I was a child. They say: 'Zelenskyj is not a Jew. This is a disgrace to the Jewish people," Putin said. He earned applause for this statement from the audience, which included many politicians loyal to the Kremlin and the heads of several Ukrainian territories annexed in violation of international law.
Moscow repeatedly justifies its war of aggression against the neighboring country with the propaganda claim that Ukraine must be rid of alleged "neo-Nazis". Such statements also cause great horror internationally because Zelenskyj is of Jewish descent. It has also been proven that Holocaust survivors were among the many thousands of victims of Russian attacks in Ukraine.
In Ukraine, Chief Rabbi Moshe Asman countered Putin's statements: "Personally, I can say that I'm proud of President Zelenskyy, that he didn't flee and is doing everything to protect the Ukrainian people," Asman told the Unian agency. "I think the whole world is proud of him."
Kremlin chief denies Ukrainian successes at the front
Putin denied reports of Ukrainian successes at the front. "They didn't achieve their goals at any stage," the Kremlin chief claimed. On the other hand, Ukraine, which has been defending itself against a Russian war of aggression for almost 16 months, has been reporting minor gains in territory in its ongoing counter-offensive for a few days. International observers also attest the attacked country initial successes in the liberation of occupied areas.
Once again, the President also criticized Western arms deliveries to the attacked Ukraine. "Of course, we see that Western countries are making maximum efforts to ensure that Russia (...) suffers defeat on the battlefield," he said. But the Russian defense industry has already more than doubled its production compared to the previous year, he said. The alleged increase in production could not initially be verified independently.
Meanwhile, Putin's statement about Patriot air defense systems, which Russia's army allegedly destroyed, attracted attention in the critical Russian media. A total of five Patriots were disabled in the Kiev region, Putin claimed - only: Ukraine has just received two such systems from Western partners, one of them from Germany.
Statements by Putin on possible deliveries of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine also attracted attention: If the machines are stationed outside of Ukraine, then the Russian side will "see how and where we destroy these funds," said the Kremlin chief. A little later, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov backtracked and said Russia would attack the jets if they were delivered on Ukrainian territory.
Putin's statement on disarmament causes a stir
Putin also commented on nuclear arms control. "We have more such weapons than the NATO countries," he said in St. Petersburg. "They know that and keep pushing us to start talks about reductions," the Kremlin chief continued - and then added: "Fuck it, you know what we say among the people."
Kremlin spokesman Peskov later had to explain these statements to journalists - and put them into perspective. "Russia is ready to conduct negotiations," he assured.
At the beginning of the year, under the impression of its war of aggression against Ukraine, Russia declared the last major agreement on nuclear arms control: the "New Start" treaty with the USA, to be suspended. This limits the nuclear arsenals of both countries and regulates inspections. Then, in early June, the US government offered Russia and China nuclear arms control talks "without preconditions." Instead of waiting until all bilateral differences have been settled, Washington said it was ready to start talks so that no new conflicts arose.