Vladimir Putin has accused the west of trying to “violate” and “dismember” Russia and sent a warning to those within his country he labelled as traitors.
Addressing government ministers nearly three weeks into the war in Ukraine, the Russian president said what Moscow calls its “special military operation” was going to plan and that his country was ready to discuss neutral status for Ukraine.
Mr Putin then lashed out once more at western powers, saying that they wanted to turn Russia into a “weak dependent country; violate its territorial integrity; to dismember Russia in a way that suits them”.
The Russian leader also lambasted citizens he referred to as “scum and traitors” and said the west wanted to use them as a “fifth column” to destroy Russia.
“Of course they (the west) will try to bet on the so-called fifth column, on traitors – on those who earn their money here, but live over there. Live, not in the geographical sense, but in the sense of their thoughts, their slavish thinking,” Mr Putin said.
“The collective west wants to divide our society… to provoke civil confrontation in Russia and to use its fifth column to strive to achieve its aim. And there is one aim – the destruction of Russia,” he said in a televised address.
Mr Putin was speaking at a government meeting to discuss economic support measures following an unprecedented wave of sanctions from the west over the invasion of Ukraine.
He made a rare acknowledgement of the sanctions’ severe impact – saying that inflation and unemployment would rise, and structural changes to the economy would be needed – but stressed that the country could weather the storm.
“The west doesn’t even bother to hide that their aim is to damage the entire Russian economy, every Russian,” Mr Putin said.
On the issue of proposed neutral status for Ukraine, Mr Putin said Russia was ready to discuss this in talks.
“The question of principle for our country and its future – the neutral status of Ukraine, its demilitarisation, and its denazification – we were ready and we are ready to discuss as part of negotiations.”
Ukraine says it is willing to negotiate to end the war but will not surrender or accept Russian ultimatums.