The Crimean Peninsula "is of huge importance for the Russian nation, just as the Temple Mount is for people of Jewish faith," Russian President Valdimir Putin said Thursday in an attempt to defend Russia' annexation of the formerly Ukrainian region.
In a fiercely patriotic state of the union speech, the Kremlin leader trumpeted his annexation of the peninsula, praised the Russian people for their strength, accused the West of "pure cynicism" in Ukraine and said economic sanctions must drive Russians to develop their own economy.
"We are ready to meet any challenge of the times and win," he declared to applause from an audience of 1,000 dignitaries, almost all of them loyal supporters.
In wake of Russia' incursion into the Ukraine, tensions between the Kremlin and the Western world have been at an all time high. Putin slammed the West for attempting to divide and conquer Russia, comparing the move to what Hitler attempted to do.
"The west wanted to run Yugoslavian scenario in Russia. Just as Hitler failed to destroy Russia with his misanthropic ideas, everybody should just remember how these things end. Our army crushed the Nazis and liberated Europe," Putin said
Continuing with his World War Two analogy, Putin said that there was also a need to cooperate to prevent such large scale wars, which he said was being threatened by US exceptionalism.
"We also can't forget the terrible events of 1941/2. This brings us to issues of international security. The US continues to build global missile defense system, effecting everyone's security. This gives them this sense of impunity, and raises risks. We are not going to get ourselves dragged into an expensive arms race, but will address our security … We have unorthodox ways for that. Nobody will gain a military edge over Russia."
"We are strong and we are confident. Our purpose is to have as many reliable partners as possible, both in the West and the East. We are not going to roll back our relationship with Europe and the US under any circumstances, but at the same time we'll continue to develop ties with Africa and the Middle East," Putin said.
But the ruble fell as he delivered a speech that showed no sign of a retreat from policies that have brought his country to confrontation with the West unseen since the Cold War.
Disappointing the hopes of many investors, he produced no grand plan to pull the economy out of a crisis aggravated by falling oil prices and Western sanctions over his policies toward Ukraine.
So determined was the West to destroy Russia, he said, that sanctions would have been imposed even without the crisis in Ukraine.
"I am certain that if all this did not take place... they would come up with another reason to contain Russia's growing capabilities," he said, flanked by a Russian flag on either side. "Whenever anyone thinks Russia has become strong, they resort to this instrument."