MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin argued Tuesday that ending “illegitimate sanctions” against countries like his could boost the coronavirus-hit global economy and create jobs, using his annual speech at the U.N. General Assembly to stress the need for multilateral cooperation against the pandemic.
In a somewhat muted speech for the often tough-talking Russian leader, Putin told the U.N.’s 75th anniversary gathering that countries need to work together better to fight the virus and other global problems.
“Freeing world trade from barriers, bans, restrictions and illegitimate sanctions would be a great help in revitalizing global growth and reducing unemployment," he said.
Putin has been pushing for years to end U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed on Moscow after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, was accused of interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections, and other actions. Moscow views the Crimea annexation as legitimate, and denies meddling in the vote that gave Donald Trump the U.S. presidency.
Putin warned other countries against unspecified “interference” in domestic affairs, and said “cybersecurity also deserves most serious deliberation within the U.N.” — without mentioning the Russian trolls and hackers accused of manipulating U.S. public opinion in 2016.
Putin’s speech came amid tensions between Russia and the West over Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is being treated in Berlin for what German authorities said was a nerve agent poisoning, and as the EU ponders imposing sanctions over Belarus’ disputed presidential election and crackdowns on protesters.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Navalny’s poisoning an attempted murder that was intended to silence Putin’s most prominent political foe. Merkel’s office indicated she may be willing to rethink the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would bring Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
EU foreign ministers failed to agree Monday on imposing sanctions on Belarusian officials suspected of rigging the Aug. 9 election that kept authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in power. A security crackdown on anti-government protests followed the vote. However, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said there was “clear will to adopt those sanctions.”
Russia also has drawn international criticism for speedily approving a COVID-19 vaccine, and some Western experts said it cut corners during testing. Putin has touted the vaccine on national television and said that one of his adult daughters had already been inoculated - and on Tuesday, he offered to provide the vaccine free to all U.N. staff.
However, both Russian and Western experts insist that further studies are needed to determine the vaccine's effectiveness and safety.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said some countries “are seeking to impose concepts and standards like the ‘rules-based world order’ while trying to meddle in the domestic affairs of other states, using unilateral sanctions in violation of the U.N. Security Council prerogatives, and exhibiting intolerance and hatred."
Putin called for unity and urged countries to reaffirm their commitment to the U.N. charter and international law, lamenting a “deficit of humanity and kindness” between countries amid the pandemic.
He repeatedly stressed the Soviet Union's role in helping vanquish the Nazis in World War II — the conflict that gave birth to the United Nations. Despite calls for deep reform of the U.N., Putin said the Security Council's five permanent members should keep their veto power, and said their leaders agreed to an in-person meeting once the pandemic allows.
“In an interconnected, interdependent world, in the whirlpool of international events, it is necessary to act together and rely on the principles of international law enshrined in the U.N. charter,” he said.
Charlton contributed from Paris.