Putin Makes Questionable Claims in Major Speech

Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed his nation on Tuesday, and among the numerous talking points in his speech were several dubious claims.

In his nearly two-hour speech, the leader discussed Russia's wartime economy while saying "ordinary citizens" didn't sympathize with "those who lost their capital, lost their yachts and palaces." Perhaps the most newsworthy moment came when Putin announced the suspension of Russia's participation in the New START treaty that limits the number of nuclear weapons for both the United States and Russia.

Throughout the address, Putin also made a number of questionable statements, including that Russia did not start the war in Ukraine, which he and Kremlin officials have asserted multiple times since he ordered the attacks on President Volodymyr Zelensky's country almost a year ago. He also unleashed new claims about the West regarding pedophilia and priests being forced to conduct same-sex marriages.

Below are some of the more notable claims Putin made during his speech.

Vladimir Putin in Moscow
Above, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech to the Federal Assembly on February 21, 2023, in Moscow. During the address, Putin made several statements that contained questionable information. Getty Images

The West Started the War

In his State of the Nation address, Putin tried to paint Western countries as the aggressors who drew Russia and Ukraine into conflict.

"We aren't fighting the Ukrainian people," Putin said, adding that Ukraine "has become [a] hostage of the Kyiv regime and its Western masters, which have effectively occupied the country."

Though Putin began the attacks on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, he has cited such justifications for the invasion as NATO expansion as well as unproven claims that neo-Nazi influence has taken control of Ukraine.

George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government professor Mark N. Katz told Newsweek that Putin's speech was an attempt to cast the West as "absolutely evil, and how Russia is defending not just itself but humanity against them."

Western 'Elites' Are Conspiring Against Russia

Not only did Putin say that the West is responsible for the war, but he added that "elites" from Western nations are trying to destroy Russia.

"The responsibility for fueling the Ukrainian conflict, for its escalation, for the number of victims...lies completely with Western elites," Putin said.

He continued, "Western elites make no secret of their goal—to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia. What does this mean to us? This means they plan to finish us once and for all."

Like other claims made in his speech, he offered no evidence to show that so-called elites laid the plans for the war and want to "finish" Russia.

Pedophilia Is 'the Norm' in the West

Putin also characterized those in the West as sexual deviants and criminals and spoke out against same-sex marriages.

"Look at what they do to their own people: The destruction of families, of cultural and national identities and the perversion that is child abuse all the way up to pedophilia, are advertised as the norm...and priests are forced to bless same-sex marriages," the Russian president said.

The exact rate of child molestation in the United States is not easy to determine, because many incidents are not reported. RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) estimates that one in 9 girls and one in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse at the hands of an adult.

Despite the prevalence of child molestation, though, the characterization of it as "normal" could suggest a degree of acceptance. In the United States, studies have consistently shown the public largely favors harsh punishments for people who abuse children.

Western Sanctions Have Backfired

Putin downplayed the effects economic sanctions have had on Russia and instead said the West has suffered from enacting the punishments.

"They want to make the [Russian] people suffer [with sanctions]...but their calculations did not materialize...Those imposing sanctions are punishing themselves," Putin said. "The Russian economy and management system turned out to be much stronger than the West believed."

While it's true that the United States did experience inflated costs due to the sanctions, especially with gasoline prices, Russia's economy has also been damaged.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov announced in December that the oil price cap imposed by the G7 could result in Russia's budget deficit increasing by more than the expected 2 percent of GDP.

The Russian ruble also dropped precipitously since the beginning of the war, and Rosstat, the Russian government's statistical agency, announced in November that the country's economy officially entered a recession.

"Overall, what is clear is that Putin is not backing down over Ukraine," Katz said. "By his logic, nobody can legitimately disagree with him in the existential conflict between good versus evil, with Russia being the good."

Lawrence C. Reardon, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, told Newsweek that Putin's speech is "not the first time that a politician has described lies as the truth."

"This rhetorical style is often accompanied by bombast, demagoguery and a complete disregard for reality, which is useful to shore up support among the leader's most loyal followers," Reardon said.

He continued, "Yet, woe to the leader who begins to believe the rhetoric and underestimates the opposition. Growing doubts of the leader's legitimacy will weaken the leader's grasp on power, who must constantly resort to hyperbole and expensive policy victories. But in the end, such leaders are held accountable for their misjudgments and often the price is their life."

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.