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By IRINA TITOVA and JIM HEINTZ – Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — President Vladimir Putin said Friday at the flagship Russia investment conference that the country’s economy will overcome “reckless and senseless” sanctions, while condemning the United States for acting as “God’s own messengers on planet Earth”.

Putin began his speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum with a lengthy denunciation of countries he believes want to weaken Russia, including the United States.

He said the United States “declared victory in the Cold War and later came to see itself as God’s own messengers on planet Earth.”

Russia has faced a wide range of sanctions after sending troops to Ukraine in February. Hundreds of foreign companies have also suspended their activities in Russia or pulled out of the country entirely.

Putin said trying to harm Russia’s economy “didn’t work”.

“Russian companies and government authorities worked calmly and professionally,” he said. “We are normalizing the economic situation. We have stabilized the financial markets, the banking system, the trading system.”

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Russia’s projected inflation rate has come down slightly, but the current projected annual rate of 16.7% is still too high, he said.

Putin has also vehemently defended his country’s actions in Ukraine. Russia has argued that its neighbor poses a threat because of its desire to join the NATO military alliance.

“In the current situation, in the context of increasing risks and threats, Russia’s decision to carry out a special military operation was forced,” the Russian leader said. “It was very difficult to do, but it was forced and necessary. It was a decision of a sovereign country which has the unconditional right, based on the Charter of the United Nations, to defend its security.

Putin predicted Russian success in Ukraine after more than 16 weeks of fighting.

“All the objectives of the special military operation will definitely be achieved,” he said. “This is predetermined by the courage and heroism of our warriors, the consolidation of Russian society, the support of which gives strength and confidence to the Russian army and navy, the deep understanding of correctness and historical justice of our cause.”

Russia will also “accept any of the choices” the people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region make regarding their future, Putin said. There has been constant speculation that separatist territories will hold votes on joining Russia, such as when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Separatist leaders in both regions have expressed a desire for such a referendum.

Russia recognized the two regions as independent states days before sending troops to Ukraine, a move none of its allies has so far repeated. Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who sat on the stage alongside Putin at the St. Petersburg forum on Friday, said the Central Asian nation is unlikely to and called the republics self-proclaimed “quasi-state territories”.

The fighting in Ukraine has raised fears of a global food crisis as it has disrupted food exports, especially grain.

Putin said Russia could “significantly increase its food and fertilizer exports”, but expressed concern that Ukraine could use export earnings to pay for the weapons it received from Russia. other countries.

Heintz reported from Moscow.

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