LONDON: President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that the world faced the most dangerous decade since World War Two as Western elites scrambled to prevent the inevitable crumbling of the global dominance of the United States and its allies.
In one of his longest public appearances since he sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, Putin signalled he had no regrets about what he calls "a special operation" and accused the West of inciting the war and of playing a "dangerous, bloody and dirty" game that was sowing chaos across the world.
"The historical period of the West's undivided dominance over world affairs is coming to an end," Putin, Russia's paramount leader, told the Valdai Discussion Club during a session entitled "A Post-Hegemonic World: Justice and Security for Everyone".
"We are standing at a historical frontier: Ahead is probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and, at the same time, important decade since the end of World War Two."
The 70-year-old former KGB spy was more than an hour late to the meeting of Russia experts where he gave a typically scathing interpretation of what he portrayed as Western decadence and decline in the face of rising Asian powers such as China.
He appeared relaxed over more than three and a half hours as he was questioned about fears of nuclear war, his relations with President Xi Jinping, and about how he felt about Russian soldiers killed in the Ukraine war, which he cast "partly" as a civil war, a notion Kyiv rejects.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the war, while the West has imposed the most severe sanctions in history on Russia, one of the world's biggest suppliers of natural resources.
The Russian leader blamed the West for stoking recent nuclear tensions, citing remarks by former British Prime Minister Liz Truss about her readiness to use London's nuclear deterrent if the circumstances demanded it.
He repeated an assertion that Ukraine could detonate a "dirty bomb" laced with radioactive material to frame Moscow - an allegation dismissed by Kyiv and the West as false and without evidence.
A suggestion by Kyiv that the Russian charge might mean Moscow plans to detonate such a device itself was false, he said.
"We don't need to do that. There would be no sense whatsoever in doing that," Putin said, adding that the Kremlin had responded to what it felt was nuclear blackmail by the West.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has triggered the biggest confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis in the depths of the Cold War when the Soviet Union and the United States came closest to nuclear war.
Asked about a potential nuclear escalation around Ukraine, Putin said the danger of nuclear weapons would exist as long as nuclear weapons existed.
But he said Russia's military doctrine was defensive and, asked about the Cuban Missile crisis, quipped that he had no desire to be in the place of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who, along with John F. Kennedy, took the world to the brink of nuclear war before defusing the situation.
"No way. No, I can't imagine myself in the role of Khrushchev," Putin said.
Putin quoted a 1978 Harvard lecture by Russian dissident and novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who launched a frontal assault on Western civilisation, decrying the hollow materialism and "the blindness of superiority" of the West.
"Power over the world is what the so-called West has put on the line in its game - but the game is dangerous, bloody and I would say dirty," said Putin. "The sower of the wind, as they say, will reap the storm."
"I have always believed and believe in common sense so I am convinced that sooner or later the new centres of the multipolar world order and the West will have to start an equal conversation about the future we share - and the earlier the better," Putin said.
He cast the conflict in Ukraine as a battle between the West and Russia for the fate of the second largest Eastern Slav country which he said had ended in tragedy for Kyiv.
Putin said he thought constantly of Russian casualties in Ukraine, but avoided getting into detail about what the West says are huge losses. But only Russia could guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine, he said.
Ultimately, Putin said, the West would have to talk to Russia and other major powers about the future of the world.