Deconstructing Putin 644

I listened live to Putin’s speech yesterday with great interest.  Here is my own analysis, for what it is worth.

Putin was strongest in his accusations of western hypocrisy.  His ironic welcoming of the West having suddenly discovered the concept of international law was very well done.  His analysis of the might is right approach the West had previously adopted, and their contempt of the UN over Iraq and Afghanistan, was spot on. Putin also was absolutely right in describing the Kosovo situation as “highly analogous” to the situation in Crimea. That is indeed true, and attempts by the West – including the Guardian – to argue the cases are different are pathetic exercises in special pleading.

The problem is that Putin blithely ignored the enormous logical inconsistency in his argument.  He stated that the Crimean and Kosovo cases were highly analogous, but then used that to justify Russia’s action in Crimea, despite the fact that Russia has always maintained the NATO Kosovo intervention was illegal(and still refuses to recognize Kosovo).  In fact of course Russia was right over Kosovo, and thus is wrong over Crimea.

I was very interested that Putin made distinct reference to the appalling crimes against the Tartars in the 1930’s, but also to the terrible suffering of Ukrainians in that period.  His references were not detailed but their meaning was clear.  I was surprised because under Putin’s rule there has been a great deal of rehabilitation of Stalin.  Archives that were opened under glasnost have frozen over again, and history in Russian schools now portrays Stalin’s foreign policy achievement much more than his crimes (and it is now again  possible to complete your Russian school education with no knowledge the Stalin-Hitler pact ever happened).  So this was both surprising and positive.  Designed to be positive was his assurance that Crimea will be trilingual.  We will see what happens; Putin’s Russia is in fact not tolerant of its ethnic populations in majority Russian areas, and in fact contains a great many more far right thugs than Ukraine –  probably about the same  percentage of the population.

The 97% referendum figure is simply unbelievable to any reasonable person and is straight out of the Soviet playbook – it was strange to see Putin going in and out of modern media friendly mode and his audience, with their Soviet en brosse haircuts and synchronized clapping – obviously liked the Soviet bits best.

The attempt to downplay Russia’s diplomatic isolation was also a bit strange.  He thanked China, though China had very pointedly failed to support Russian in the Security Council.  When you are forced to thank people for abstaining, you are not in a strong position diplomatically.  He also thanked India, which is peculiar, because the Indian PM yesterday put out a press release saying Putin had called him, but the had urged Putin to engage diplomatically with the interim government in Kiev, which certainly would not be welcome to Putin.  I concluded that Putin was merely trying to tell his domestic audience Russia has support, even when it does not.

But what I find really strange is that the parts of the speech I found most interesting have not drawn any media comment I can see.  Putin plainly said that in his discussions with Kuchma on the boundaries of Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they hadn’t wanted to open any dispute with what they expected to be a friendly neighbor, and that therefore the boundaries of Ukraine had never been finally demarcated.  He said twice the boundaries had not been demarcated.  That seemed to indicate a very general threat to Eastern Ukraine. He also spoke of the common heritage of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine in a way that indicated that he did not accept that Ukraine might choose a political future away from Russia.

Secondly, he said that on the day the Soviet Union broke up, Russians in many places had “woken up to find themselves in a foreign country.” Again from the context in which he said it, this referred not just to Crimea, and not just even to the rest of Ukraine, but to Russian nationals all over the Former Soviet Union.  I would be worrying a lot about this part of the speech if I was Kazakh, to give just one example.  Putin seemed to be outlining a clear agenda to bring Russian speaking areas of CIS countries back in to Mother Russia – indeed, I see no other possible interpretation of his actions in Georgia and Ukraine.

I think that we should start listening much more carefully to what he says. I also think that the weakness of the EU’s response to events gives Putin a very dangerous encouragement to pursue further aggrandizement.  I posted a few days ago:

The EU I expect to do nothing.  Sanctions will target a few individuals who are not too close to Putin and don’t keep too many of their interests in the West.  I don’t think Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovic need lose too much sleep, that Harrods need worry or that we will see any flats seized at One Hyde Park.  (It is among my dearest wishes one day to see One Hyde Park given out for council housing.)  Neither do I expect to see the United States do anything effective; its levers are limited.

The truth is of course that the global political elite are in the pockets of the global financial elite, and while ordinary Russians are still desperately poor, the money the oligarchs rip out of Russia’s backward commodity exporting economy is parceled around the world financial system in ways that make it impossible for the western political classes to do anything.  Whose funds would the hedge fund managers look after?  Whose yacht could Mandelson and Osborne holiday on?

Personally I should like to see a complete financial freeze on the entire Russian oligarchy.  The knock on effects would only hurt a few bankers, and city types and those who depend on them (cocaine dealers, lap dancers, Porsche dealers, illegal domestic servants).  Sadly we shan’t see anything happen. They won’t let Eton go bust.


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644 thoughts on “Deconstructing Putin

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  • craig Post author

    If I can make a sort of footnote through a comment, Putin did speak as though he personally had been involved in negotiating Ukrainian independence with Kuchma, which surprised me as I think he was still at the KGB then?

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Mr Murray,

    Yet I believe that there is a significant substantial difference between Kosovo and Crimea. There was no ethnic cleansing or even any sort of danger to Russians in Crimea. Completely opposite to Kosovars. I will go even further and claim that if Milochevich and Radich were still in power in Yugoslavia today, it would be highly likely that NATO did nothing against them. Yes, Kosovo might not turned out to be heaven on earth after split from Serbia but the fact is that concluding genocidal behaviour of Serbs against Kosovar it would be highly unlikely that latter would be willing to be ruled by former, And yet again, nothing like this happened in Crimea. In fact it was Ukrainians who fully experienced genocide from Russian in form of Holodomor and throughout previous 600 years.

    I am not trying to be apologetic to the actions of NATO in Yugoslavia, for me this Yugoslavia like many other places around the world (not at least Rwanda) is yet another confirmation of limitations of International Law. The whole system is based on realist approach where sovereign states are primarily and everything else is secondary.

    For me Crimea is an example of Putin’s mastery in misinterpreting facts and feeding west hating Russian public (applies to majority) ethical and legal grounds for Crimean Anschluss.

    Worse, I fear yet to come. Weak response from the west gave Putin card blanche for even more adventures in the former soviet space. And if left unanswered, who knows one day Russia might complete its aim to be dominant power in Europe. Mad western lefties will of course welcome such great opportunity.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Mr Murray,

    One small remark. Ukraine became independent under president Leonid Kravchuk and not Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma becamse president in 1994. The first transition of power from one to another in post soviet space (excluding Baltics).

  • ASprak

    I see Putin conceding influence to NATO moving into Ucraine proper. Russia has a history of protecting it’s borders (containment, which is where Stalin comes in again).

  • Hector

    ” Putin seemed to be outlining a clear agenda to bring Russian speaking areas of CIS countries back in to Mother Russia – indeed, I see no other possible interpretation of his actions in Georgia and Ukraine.”

    It’ll be interesting if CIS countries and the Baltic states decide it means Putin would like Russian-speakers back in Mother Rueeia. Given Russia’s declining population it could even be what he meant!

  • craig Post author


    yes he must have said Kravchuk, I guess – was taking notes furiously so it just looks like K-slur.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    I doubt this a lot. There are at least 20 million Russian speaking outside of Russia and within former USSR. It takes Russian authorities ages (at least 2 years) to get paperwork approved for Russians from Central Asia for them to move and settle in Russia. Putin is quick to issue Russian citizenship only in cases when he wants to grab piece of land with new Russian citizens.

  • Kempe

    Strange that Putin claims Ukraine’s borders were never finally demarcated. In 1994 Russia (Along with the US and UK) signed an agreement promising to respect Ukraine’s territorial independence in return for Ukraine giving up it’s share of the Soviet nuclear arsenal (1,900 warheads). How could they have done that if they didn’t know where the boundaries of that territory were?

  • wikispooks

    Here’s the full official English transcript. I’ve added headings to aid with citation navigation and general readability. Otherwise it is verbatim from the Kremlin.

    Note also the videos. Anyone with any doubt about Putin’s popularity – of a magnitude that our western mediocrities can only dream of – needs to watch them.

    I found the speech particularly noteworthy for its calm factual analysis of the contempt with which the US-NATO has behaved towards Russia ever since the dissolution of the USSR. Russia has clearly had enough of it.

    Craig is no doubt correct about Russian inconsistency over Kosovo, but only in still refusing to recognise it. If he is implying that both the Kosovo and Crimea secessions are illegal under the amendment to International law that UN acceptance of the Kosovo secession confirms, then he needs to study the matter further. Putin does a creditable job of explaining it in his speech.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Reminds me of what Basil was thinking about Hitler in that episode of Ponty Pyithon where he kept telling himself not to mention the war to that German visitor, only to keep doing so.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Russians now claim that none of the states that guaranteed Ukrainian territorial integrity have approved Budapest memorandum via their parliamnent. Basically what Putin claims that the memorandum is not even worse a paper it was signed on. It is becoming more and more common for Russian authorities to disrespect the laws it signed on to adhire to. President was of course put by US/UK invasion to Iraq, but as many western lefties claim, putin is a good guy. Who accidently behaves more like bad guys.

  • Ba'al Zevul (Хождение в народ!)

    Thanks for the synopsis and interpretation. Question is, is it more in Britain’s interest to oppose or to go along with this reversion to what is, after all, traditional rule in Russia, brutal as it often is? We’re back in the 18/19th century, aren’t we – with the addition of MAD? I suspect that sometime in the next decade we’re going to have to abandon our humanitarian scruples and pretensions to democratic values and deal realistically with the new Peter the Great – as I am sure he sees himself, absolute power having corrupted him absolutely. Napoleon and Hitler discovered the hard way what ‘dealing realistically’ with Russia didn’t mean…

    Pragmatism, boys. We don’t have any moral high ground left.

  • Ed

    “I also think that the weakness of the EU’s response to events gives Putin a very dangerous encouragement to pursue further aggrandizement.”

    I’m struggling to buy this. I agree the EU response is on the face of it weak, but I don’t see that this would encourage Putin to claw back more of the old USSR.

    For me, ever since Yanukovich was removed from office, Russia has been scrambling to make the best of a bad situation. I don’t for a moment believe this is how Putin wants to restore prestige. Gaining Crimea, strategically important though it is, is hardly a great victory for Mother Russia. Most of Ukraine, until recently a client state of Moscow, is now lost. It’ll be part of the EU in a few years.

    So I don’t see how Putin is genuinely celebrating. If this is the pattern of the former USSR, where those countries fracture and large parts of which turn their back on Moscow, this is no aggrandizement strategy, it’s a diminuition of influence.

    Goodness knows the EU has its problems, but if the new Ukraine turns into another enlargement success story, I know who I call this win for.

  • Herbie

    The horrid Siberian isolation of it all.

    You’re a bit behind the curve, Craig.

    “India not to support Western sanctions against Russia”

    “With Russia facing sanctions from the United States and some other countries after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine, India on Wednesday made it clear that it will not support any “unilateral measures” against Russian government.”

    And that Chinese abstention.

    Then the West’s voodoo economy.

  • Ben

    One question has been bothering me; If Yanukovich was Putin’s puppet, why was he pushing for the EU, and the IMF austerity?

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!


    “It’ll be interesting if CIS countries and the Baltic states decide it means Putin would like Russian-speakers back in Mother Rueeia. Given Russia’s declining population it could even be what he meant!”

    You might recall that a few threads ago I suggested that it might be a good if the Russians in the Baltic states were to leave for Russia.

    They could be compensated adequately.

    In theory Russia shouldn’t mind and could be helpful on a practical sense – after all, they have form on the matter of displacing populations (both within the USSR, including Ukraine, by the way) and as regards border states (East Prussia and Poland).

    With this, they wouldn’t have to display their touching concern for Russians outside the state borders any longer. And no longer have a pretext for futue interference in neighbouring independent states.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    I think that the best possible way to deal with Russia is diplomatic and economic. Russia depends on the west more that it wants to accept. Russia needs modernisation of its technology and only west could provide it. Russia needs to have stable marker for its gas and oil and only west could provide it. In long term there are some in Russia (even amongst the most keen Euroasianists) who thinks that Russia’s main adversary is China and not the west. And they realise that Russia needs western alliance in order to resist Chinese hegemony in future. It is already evident in Central Asia that China is overtaking Russia as elder brother. Chinese investments in Central Asia are growing while Russia is only concentrated in status quo (making sure that energy is pumped through Russia). However; even this status quo is becoming more and more difficult to enforce. There are large projects between Central Asian republics to build pipeline to export energy to China bypassing Russia. China is actually proving to be more resilient than EU in diversifying its energy supplies. It is dealing with central asia directly and as investments will grow and pipeline finished China for sure will ensure that Russians are not threaten their energy supply from the region. In fact 4 years ago in the aftermath of Russian intervention to Georgia China signed treaty with central Asian republics (within SCO) that it will guarantee their territorial integrity and provide security guarantees in case of security threat. Russia signed up for this treaty too. It is certain that in case of Russian uniterial action in central asia (similar to Georgia/Ukraine) China will be more forceful than EU/US in enforcing its guarantees, especially considering threat to its energy supplies.

    On the other hand Russia also realise that relying on China as its only energy market is weak and therefore its dependence on Europe as major market is important in Russian foreign policy strategy.

    If west enforces its economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation (at least with western powers) then it will be seriously damaging to Russia in medium and long terms and for sure it will be sufficient to bring Russian KGB establishment back to the negotiating table.

  • Herbie

    Habby, on Russia

    “after all, they have form on the matter of displacing populations”

    I truly believe you say these things with no sense of irony at all.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!


    Good post there (thank you), which provides more backup for Craig’s thoughts as expressed in the “Putin’s Victorious Defeat” thread.

    And before the usual Eminences start huffin’ and puffin’, I hope that none of them would deny the right of Ukraine to accede to the EU? If they think it has no sich right, then it would be interesting to hear why.

    (and by accede, I don’t mean next month or next year)

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!


    “Habby, on Russia

    “after all, they have form on the matter of displacing populations”

    I truly believe you say these things with no sense of irony at all.”

    Those population displacements are historical fact, Herby, which even you and your Eminent friends can’t wish away. So irony doesn’t come into it.

    Or are you saying that they didn’t happen?

  • Ben

    A bit OT. Who were the snipers?

    “The leader of UNA-UNSO, Andriy Shkil, ten years ago became an adviser to Julia Tymoshenko. UNA-UNSO, during the US-instigated 2003-2004 “Orange Revolution”, backed pro-NATO candidate Viktor Yushchenko against his pro-Russian opponent, Yanukovich. UNA-UNSO members provided security for the supporters of Yushchenko and Julia Tymoshenko on Independence Square in Kiev in 2003-4.[4]

    UNA-UNSO is also reported to have close ties to the German National Democratic Party (NDP). [5]

    Ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the crack-para-military UNA-UNSO members have been behind every revolt against Russian influence. The one connecting thread in their violent campaigns is always anti-Russia. The organization, according to veteran US intelligence sources, is part of a secret NATO “GLADIO” organization, and not a Ukraine nationalist group as portrayed in western media. [6]

    According to these sources, UNA-UNSO have been involved (confirmed officially) in the Lithuanian events in the Winter of 1991, the Soviet Coup d’etat in Summer 1991, the war for the Pridnister Republic 1992, the anti-Moscow Abkhazia War 1993, the Chechen War, the US-organized Kosovo Campaign Against the Serbs, and the August 8 2008 war in Georgia. According to these reports, UNA-UNSO para-military have been involved in every NATO dirty war in the post-cold war period, always fighting on behalf of NATO. “These people are the dangerous mercenaries used all over the world to fight NATO’s dirty war, and to frame Russia because this group pretends to be Russian special forces. THESE ARE THE BAD GUYS, forget about the window dressing nationalists, these are the men behind the sniper rifles,” these sources insist. [7]”

  • Herbie

    Not even the EU is really on board:

    “”We have done what we said we could do, but, yes, the U.S. is from Mars, we are from Venus,” said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who wanted at least four more names on the EU list but was rebuffed by other member states.

    “I would suggest that we are not overly enthusiastic when it comes to introducing sanctions, because we will pay for it.””

    They know that Europe’s future lies east, rather than west.

    I’d say the US is isolated and quite rapidly losing influence.

    The king is certainly lingering on, and no one will say much openly until they’re sure he’s dead. Though I do expect there will be some hastening, behind the scenes.

  • Herbie

    Irony of course comes into it

    The very power that rules the planet today is a product of the greatest displacement of peoples in all human history.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    You have no idea how putin could go further messing up the situation. Further intervention into east/south of Ukraine is one option. Anschluss of Transdnestr is another (it will have indirect impact on Ukraine but will make it very problematic to get Ukraine into EU). There are some military analysts (Russian of course) who suggest that for Russia to cut of Ukraine and Moldova from Europe (both EU and NATO) Russia must push further for Anschluss of Eastern Ukraine and Transdnestr. There is a risk of course that Russia might get stuck with Ukrainian resistance (military and partisan), but I am sure Putin will stop at nothing to ensure no further advancement of Europeanism towards Russian borders.

    It has taken further 50 years and historical miracle (according to realists) from end of WWII for the eastern European members of EU to get their true freedom. It might take even longer for Ukraine, if at all. Russians when smell weakness of their adversary will not stop at anything. Ask Tatars, Turks, Central Asians, Polish, Chinese, Japanese and even Germans.

  • Herbie


    “I am sure Putin will stop at nothing to ensure no further advancement of Europeanism towards Russian borders.”

    Obviously he’ll want to limit the faux NATO neocon version, but his longer term plan would be to accomodate Europe qua Europe.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    I am saying it again and again. Little reading of Ukrainian and Russian history and modern days politics could benefit some MAD lefties on this blog and give them some sense of knowledge before coming up with stupid questions and build their fake conspiracy theories around Putin’s (ironically) right wing propaganda.

    I have read and heard many times that back in 1930th to 1970th there were very few (in fact very devoted) lefties which (deliberately which not who) praised some of the most effective murderes in human history – Stalin and Mao. Their workers paradise tails have been passed through generations of MAD western lefties, but Holodomor, Gulag, Purges, Great Leap forward and Great Cultural revolution was something that was greatly ignored. Ignorance was blamed, when fact of these mass murders became known, just like in case with Hollacaust.

    Stop being IGNORANT. Stop being MAD.

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