Putin warns the West that Russia cannot be isolated
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin warned the West on Tuesday that attempts to isolate Moscow would fail, citing the success of the Soviet space program as evidence that Russia could achieve spectacular leaps forward in tough conditions.
Russia says it will never again depend on the West after the United States and its allies imposed crippling sanctions on it to punish Putin for his Feb. 24 order for what he called a "special military operation" in Ukraine.
Sixty one years to the day since the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin blasted off into the history books by becoming the first man in space, Putin travelled to the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East, 3,450 miles (5550 km) east of Moscow.
"The sanctions were total, the isolation was complete but the Soviet Union was still first in space," Putin said, according to Russian state television.
"We don't intend to be isolated," Putin said. "It is impossible to severely isolate anyone in the modern world - especially such a vast country as Russia."
Russia's Cold War space successes such as Gagarin's flight and the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite from earth, have a particular pertinence for Russia: both events shocked the United States.
The launch of Sputnik 1 prompted the United States to create NASA in a bid to catch up with Moscow.
Putin says the "special military operation" in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia - including via the NATO military alliance - and that Moscow had to defend Russian-speaking people in Ukraine from persecution.
He said on Tuesday that he had no doubts Russia would achieve all of its objectives in Ukraine - a conflict he cast as both inevitable and essential to defend Russia in the long term.
"Its goals are absolutely clear and noble," Putin said. "It's clear that we didn't have a choice. It was the right decision."
Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw its forces.
Russia's economy is on track to contract by more than 10% in 2022, the biggest fall in gross domestic product since the years following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said on Tuesday.
Putin toured the space port in Russia's far east with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
"Why an earth are we getting so worried about these sanctions?" Lukashenko said, according to Russian state television.
Lukashenko, who has a track record of sometimes saying things that appear to jar with his closest ally's stated positions on a range of issues, has insisted that Belarus must be involved in negotiations to resolve the conflict in Ukraine and has said that Belarus had been unfairly labelled "an accomplice of the aggressor".