Putin: The US is Repeating the Mistakes of an Overconfident Soviet Union

By Dimitri Simes | June 6, 2021 | 6:36pm EDT
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at the International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg on Friday. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at the International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg on Friday. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Moscow (CNSNews.com) – The United States is going down the same path as the former Soviet Union, an empire so confident in its power it thinks it can get away with mistaken policies and mistakes, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a speech ahead of his planned summit with President Joe Biden.

The United States was making a mistake if it thought that it could sustain its sanctions against Russia and other countries in the long run, he said during a Friday press conference in St. Petersburg, where he was attending an annual investment forum.

“The people who [threaten new sanctions against Russia] seem to proceed from the notion that the economic, military, and political power of the United States is so great that it’s no big deal and they can get away with it,” Putin said.

“Do you know what the problem is? I’ll tell you, as a former citizen of the Soviet Union: The problem of empires is that they think they are so powerful that they can afford small inaccuracies and mistakes.”

“But the number of problems keeps growing and, at some point, you can no longer deal with them. And the United States is now, with a confident step, going down the Soviet Union’s path.”

In recent years, Putin has frequently argued that the U.S. is showing signs of decline. Last June, he told an interviewer the George Floyd protests and coronavirus pandemic had revealed “deep internal crises” in the United States. In October, Putin claimed that Washington’s global influence had waned, while China and Germany were headed towards superpower status. 

In St. Petersburg, Putin also accused the United States of “double standards” for its prosecution of supporters of President Trump who stormed the U.S. Congress on January 6.

“This wasn't just a crowd of robbers and rioters,” he said. “People came with political demands. 450 people were detained, all of them are under criminal prosecution. Seventy were detained immediately, 31 of them are still under arrest,” he said. “On what basis?”

The remarks come two weeks before the first Putin-Biden summit, scheduled for June 16 in Geneva, and at a time of severe strains in the U.S.-Russian relationship.

The Biden administration has instituted new sanctions against Russia over its treatment of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, alleged interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and reported cyberattacks against U.S. government agencies and companies.

It has also criticized the Kremlin over its recent military buildup near Ukraine and its support for Belarus’ autocratic leader, Alexander Lukashenko.

In March, Russia withdrew its ambassador from Washington after Biden agreed with an interviewer’s characterization of Putin as a “killer.” The U.S. ambassador subsequently returned home from Moscow, and the embassy was forced to dramatically reduce its staff due to new hiring restrictions imposed by the Russian government.

The summit presents an opportunity for both men to try to halt the downward spiral. In recent weeks, Biden has repeatedly stated that his administration wants a “more stable and predictable” relationship with Russia.

The summit venue is viewed by some as symbolic: President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held their first-ever meeting in Geneva in 1985. Just two years later, they went on to conclude the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which banned certain types of ballistic and cruise missiles. Reagan and Gorbachev’s diplomatic efforts are widely credited for helping to bring the Cold War to an end.

In St. Petersburg, Putin told reporters he did not expect to achieve a “breakthrough” in his meeting with Biden. But he did express hope that he and Biden could find common ground on issues such as arms control, the environment, and counter-terrorism.

“I’m operating on the assumption that President Biden is a very experienced politician,” Putin said. “He has been involved in politics practically his entire life, and he is well versed in many of the problems that I have mentioned because he personally worked on them at different times in different capacities. So, I hope our meeting will be constructive.”

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