“The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths — spit them out on the pavement,” Putin said during Wednesday’s call with top officials. “I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to respond to any challenges.”

Facing stiff resistance in Ukraine and crippling economic sanctions at home, Russian President Vladimir Putin is using language that recalls the rhetoric from Josef Stalin’s show trials of the 1930s, AP reports.

Putin’s ominous speech on Wednesday likened opponents to “gnats” who try to weaken the country at the behest of the West — crude remarks that set the stage for sweeping repressions against those who dare to speak out against the war in Ukraine.

His rant appeared to reflect his frustration about the slow pace of the Russian offensive, which bogged down on the outskirts of Kyiv and around other cities in northeastern Ukraine. Russian forces made comparatively bigger gains in the south, but they haven’t been able to capture the strategic port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, and their advance along the Black Sea coast also has stalled.

Meanwhile, Russia has been battered by devastating Western sanctions that cut the government’s access to an estimated half of the country’s hard currency reserves and dealt crippling blows to many sectors of the economy.

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