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Putin Says Russia Is Battling ‘Strange’ Western Elites

President Vladimir V. Putin declared on Thursday that Russia’s battle was with “Western elites,” not with the West itself, in a speech seemingly aimed more at winning over political conservatives abroad than his own citizens.

Mr. Putin, addressing an annual foreign policy conference outside Moscow, appeared intent on capitalizing on political divisions in the United States and its allies that have only heightened since they began showering Ukraine with military aid to fend off the Russian invasion.

Many of the Russian leader’s themes were familiar, but they took on particular resonance given the coming midterm elections in the United States and growing discontent in Europe over the costs of the war.

“There are at least two Wests,” Mr. Putin said.

One, he said, is a West of “traditional, mainly Christian values” for which Russians feel kinship. But, he said, “there’s another West — aggressive, cosmopolitan, neocolonial, acting as the weapon of the neoliberal elite,” and trying to impose its “pretty strange” values on everyone else. He peppered his remarks with references to “dozens of genders” and “gay parades.”

Mr. Putin, as he often does, portrayed Russia as threatened by the possible expansion of NATO — and the values of its liberal democracies — to countries like Ukraine that were once part of the Soviet Union.

He denied that Moscow was preparing to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine. “We have no need to do this,” he said. “There’s no sense for us, neither political nor military.”

It is Mr. Putin himself, however, who has raised that prospect, as have other senior Russian officials. And past Kremlin assurances about its intentions have proved unreliable. In the days before the war began, for example, Russia denied that it planned to invade Ukraine.

“This is a trick — it shouldn’t make anyone relax,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst, noting that Mr. Putin has blamed the West and its support for an independent Ukraine for every escalation in the war. “His goal is to show that escalation is the product of Western policies.”

In the question-and-answer session, the foreign policy analyst moderating the event, Fyodor Lukyanov, pressed Mr. Putin on those setbacks, and said there was a widespread view that Russia had “underestimated the enemy.”

“Honestly, society doesn’t understand — what’s the plan?” Mr. Lukyanov asked.

Mr. Putin brushed aside the implicit criticism, arguing that Ukraine’s fierce resistance showed that he was right to launch the invasion. The longer Russia had waited, he said, “the worse it would have been for us, the more difficult and more dangerous.”

Mr. Putin also repeated Russia’s claims that Ukraine was preparing to detonate a “dirty bomb” to spread radioactive material on its territory and then blame Moscow. Ukraine and the West say that the claims — for which Russia has offered no evidence — are baseless disinformation that could be used as a pretext by the Kremlin to use a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb.

Ms. Stanovaya, the political analyst, said Mr. Putin appeared to be trying to harness worldwide anti-establishment sentiment.

“There’s now a sense that he is building an anti-Western coalition on a global scale,” she said. “He doesn’t think he’s been backed into a corner. He thinks he’s a witness to the birth of a new world.”

Mr. Putin himself said he was confident that eventually, the West would be forced to engage Russia and other world powers in talks on a future world order.

“I always believed, and believe, in the power of common sense,” Mr. Putin said. “I am therefore convinced that sooner or later, the new centers of the multipolar world order and the West will have to start a conversation of equals.”

As Western leaders have tried to punish Moscow for the war with crushing sanctions, Russian leaders have sought to build new ties to other nations and strengthen existing ones. On Thursday, the government of one of those nations, China, an increasingly important ally, offered a full-throated endorsement of Mr. Putin’s leadership.

In a telephone call with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that any attempt to block the progress between the two countries would never succeed, the Chinese ministry said in a statement.

In Ukraine on Thursday, Russian forces pursued their drone and missile assaults on infrastructure, leaving hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians without power. And the Ukrainian military said it was increasing the number of soldiers near its northern border with Belarus, where it noted what it said were unusual troop movements.

Russia has deployed its troops to airfields in Belarus, and this week, it used Belarusian territory to carry out 10 launches of Iranian-made drones, General Hromov said.

Reporting was contributed by Eric Nagourney, Ivan Nechepurenko, Marc Santora, Carly Olson and Dan Bilefsky.

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