By the Editorial Board

October 29, 2022

The Washington Post

In a Thursday speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s voice dripped with resentment and grievance against Western liberal democracies. By his telling, Russia is fed up with being pushed around and is threatened by “neoliberals” and their “gay pride parades.” Besides, he said, “Unlike the West, we do not climb into someone else’s yard.” This is galling enough from the man who launched a war without cause against neighboring Ukraine. Far more lethal are the missiles Russia is using to drive Ukraine into a savage winter of blackouts and cold.

Since Oct. 10, Russia has pummeled Ukraine’s electric power system with cruise missiles and Iranian drones. The utility Yasno said that it has only about two-thirds of its normal capacity available because of the Russian strikes. The whole nation is being plunged into darkness.

Russia’s onslaught is aimed at forcing Ukraine’s citizens to huddle in humiliation. We have little doubt they will emerge still more determined to fight back. Mr. Putin has repeatedly misjudged their fortitude.

At the same time, recent weeks’ missile attacks should be widely denounced as war crimes, along with the civilian massacres and other atrocities Russian troops have carried out in this war. The 1949 Geneva Conventions and subsequent protocols prohibit making a civilian population an object of attack, launching indiscriminate attacks affecting civilians knowing it will cause excessive loss of life and injury, and extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. What Russia is doing is wanton and indiscriminate destruction. Mr. Putin and his many henchmen should be held accountable.

Mr. Putin uses words as weapons. Knowing that his speech at Thursday’s Valdai International Discussion Club would bring headlines in open societies — those that do not censor speech, as Russia does — Mr. Putin reached for the hot buttons. “If the Western elites believe they can have their people and their societies embrace what I believe are strange and trendy ideas like dozens of genders or gay pride parades, so be it,” he sniffed. “Let them do as they please. But they certainly have no right to tell others to follow in their steps.”

Mr. Putin has articulated these themes before. But reviving them just before the U.S. midterm elections is surely no accident; he wants to stir right-wing populism and encourage criticism of U.S. support for Ukraine. He is also no doubt seeking receptive ears in Europe and elsewhere among leaders who have hesitated to back Ukraine.

It is vital to keep all eyes and ears on Mr. Putin’s deeds and not be distracted by his words. He launched a war of aggression to destroy Ukraine as a democracy and as a nation-state. He has sent tens of thousands of people — both Ukrainians and Russians — to their graves for no reason, none at all. He seeks to force those still alive in Ukraine into shivering misery. There can be no compromise with this depravity.