| 13 April 2024, Saturday |

President Putin’s State of the Nation Address

In the much anticipated presidential address to the Russian Federal Assembly, 21 February, there had been expectations of sharp and momentous statements, but in the end there were none. The event was broadcast live on BBC News, for the first time in history.

Vladimir Putin began his speech by mentioning the war in Ukraine. His main theses were that Russia would «consistently solve its tasks». In other words, no «freezing» or «de-escalation» was in sight. Moreover, Putin reiterated his earlier statements that the goals of the «SMO» are to eliminate the threat from the «[Kyiv] regime» and to «protect the people living on Russian historical lands». In more than an hour of his address to the Federal Assembly, Vladimir Putin did not name the ultimate goal of the so-called «SMO». The Russian president did not address the current course of the fighting at all, which suggests that he is not satisfied with the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine. Despite the predictions of many Russian experts, Putin did not change the status of the fighting in Ukraine, which remains a so-called «special military operation».

In his address, Putin presented a mythological picture of the world, the most complete presentation of the current geopolitical narrative of the Russian government, which has been shaped over the past year since the beginning of Russia’s genocidal invasion of Ukraine. Judging by the tone of the foreign policy content of Putin’s address, the time for compromise and dialogue between Russia and the West will not come soon.

Putin has made it clear that he now considers the «SMO» to be a long-term operation. This follows from his proposal to give the participants of the «special operation» 14 days of vacation every six months. At the same time, according to Russian law, mobilised soldiers, who are equated with contract soldiers, are already entitled to vacation twice a year.

Putin’s idea to create a special state fund to provide targeted assistance to veterans of the Special Operation and the families of the victims is populist, as the Russian authorities have not yet been able to properly support WWII veterans, many of whom have not yet received the housing they were promised.

During his address, Putin quoted one of the Nazi leaders. The Russian dictator mentioned the phrase «Guns instead of oil». This phrase was used on October 11, 1936, by Reich Minister Rudolf Hess at the grand opening of the Adolf Hitler Hall in Hof. He once again called the Ukrainian government nationalist and «neo-Nazi», citing the recent naming of the Ukrainian army’s mountain infantry brigade Edelweiss as evidence of this, drawing a parallel with the Wehrmacht unit of the same name during World War II.

Speaking about society, the key thesis was gloating over the first wave of oligarchs and big businessmen who had transferred money to the West, and whose accounts and property were now under seizure. Putin stressed that he had earlier warned big business against such a development, and noted that the majority of the Russian population has no sympathy at all for the oligarchs and their misfortunes. He also once again urged big business to invest money in Russia in order not to lose it. For his part, the Russian President offered small businesses a programme of soft loans for development. Also of interest are Putin’s words that citizens who have fought in Ukraine will now be given priority in appointments to government posts. In fact, the SMO participants have been named as the personnel reserve of the Russian state administration. Putin has effectively put Russian businesses before a choice: to remain second-class strangers in the West or to be with their homeland. This is a signal that if the elite does not nationalise, then the state will nationalise their property.

For the first time, Putin referred to Ukraine not as a state but as territories, effectively questioning the sovereignty of an internationally recognised country. In his speech, he said that the West wants to tear away Russia’s historical territories, which today are Ukraine. In addition, he once again used the term «anti-Russia» in relation to today’s Ukraine, which first appeared in his article «On the Unity of the Russian and Ukrainian Peoples» published in the summer of 2021.

Towards the end of his almost two-hour address, when viewers were no longer expecting to hear anything important about international politics, Vladimir Putin made a number of statements concerning the global confrontation with the United States and nuclear weapons. The main point of Putin’s message was Russia’s suspension (de facto withdrawal) from the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Thus, the last nuclear deterrent treaty has de facto ceased to work.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is one of the main agreements between the United States and the USSR, and later Russia, on the control of nuclear weapons in both countries. The agreement provides for the reduction of nuclear warheads, as well as carriers, from missiles to strategic bombers. This process was controlled by bilateral inspections. That is, representatives of Russia and the United States have the right to visit each other’s nuclear facilities and personally verify that each country is actually reducing its nuclear weapons. The Bilateral Consultative Commission, which deals with practical issues of the treaty, last met in Geneva in October 2021. In the summer of 2022, the Russian side did not allow a U.S. delegation to visit its nuclear missiles. Now Putin has said that other Western nuclear powers continue to develop their nuclear weapons, and the United States continues to develop new nuclear weapons and prepare for tests. He wants European countries, including France and the United Kingdom, to join the treaty.

The withdrawal from START III and Putin’s actual command to resume nuclear tests is his response to Munich and Biden’s visit to Ukraine. Thus, the Russian president has decided to raise the stakes, and his policy is no different from that of North Korea.

Even representatives of Russian science condemn such actions of the tyrant holding power in Russia. For example, Academician Alexei Arbatov, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Centre for International Security, said in an interview on 9 February about what would happen if the START was broken: «In light of the events of the past year, God grant us to avoid a return to an unlimited nuclear arms race, an increased emphasis on a first use strategy and a new wave of nuclear proliferation beyond the ‘nuclear nine’. The leaders of the twentieth century had participated in, witnessed the incredible suffering of two world wars, and remembered the horrors of Hiroshima. They had a certain reverent fear of nuclear weapons as a harbinger of the end of the world. The current generation of politicians and strategists does not seem to feel any such fear, is accustomed to nuclear weapons, and often treats them as utilitarian. In the most apocalyptic scenario, the entire Northern Hemisphere and the entire Southern Hemisphere would return to a Neanderthal state. Different experts give different estimates of the likely casualties, but they are all in the tens of millions. The consequences of a nuclear war will be so terrible that few survivors will be able to remember and understand its cause».

The main content of Putin’s message is an attempt to convince the population that there is an unspoken «Putin’s social contract» under which the government provides the necessary minimum of benefits to the population, and the population does not interfere with the government. The main motive of the current speech is the readiness to wage war in Ukraine for as long as it takes to achieve Russian goals, to adapt the Russian economy and society to this and to accept a new Cold War with the United States as an inevitable reality in the coming decades.

It can be expected that Russian propaganda will work to further escalate anti-Western hysteria.


Source – EU Political Report