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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  • Macky

    As a chess fan I must admit I’ve enjoyed Grandmaster Putin move today, pulling yet another neat one, leaving all the Russophobes scratching their heads !

  • technicolour

    How extraordinary to call people who object to a murderous regime ‘Russophobes’. Strangely analogous to those people who accuse critics of the West as ‘haters of their country’. And yet, guess what, the victims of the latter are first to point the same finger. Human nature: endlessly fascinating.

  • Macky

    No Technicolour, there is a difference between those who smear others as self-haters, and quite another to those that display an irrational fear/dislike of Russians.

  • technicolour

    Really, Macky. ‘People who have an irrational fear or dislike of Russians’ is what you call people who object to murderous Russian regimes. The analogy is exact.

  • technicolour

    I expect if you were part of the FSB you would describe Anna Politskvaya as a ‘self-hater’.

  • Macky

    @Technicolour, you’ve progressed from “who object to a murderous regime” to “who object to murderous Russian regimes” ! Next you will be doing a Uzbek in the UK special in declaring that Russians are inherently ““Chauvinistic ”; BTW when was the last time you called the UK, US or French, etc governments “murderous regimes” ?

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    Habbabkuk’s Invigilating Service

    Mr Goss posts the following

    “Gilbert Mercier, Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post {NB – for which Mr Goss also writes }, has done a telephone interview on PressTV in which he says Russia has sold off 80% of its US treasury bonds.”

    I was going to ask Mr Goss how he thought Monsieur Mercier would know that, but then to save him unnecessary effort thought I’d first listen to the link provided.

    There, Monsieur Mercier said it was “according to the US Central Bank” (sic),but gave no further information (eg, when and how). Press TV did not, of course, press him on that.

    Has anyone seen anything official from the US Treasury on this? Or something from a reliable source? Or is Monsieur Mercier just possibly making it up?

  • technicolour

    I think we’ll leave readers of the thread to understand why I inserted the word ‘Russian’, since it came of the back off your ‘Russophobic’ comment. Your beef with Uzbek you can take up with Uzbek, I think. As for when I last called blah blah blah: is that the best you can do? Because if you’re trying to smear me as someone who doesn’t stand up against murderous violence wherever it happens, you’re batting on the wrong team.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    “I’m thinking of the violent displacement of native peoples across the planet, which you rather quaintly call “emigration”.”

    Pity, that.

    And there was I, thinking about the forced displacement of entire nations. Cattle trucks, y’know – 3000km journeys in the winter cold – 20% death rates during those deportations – Siberia or the Kazakh desert – a cup of water and two salt dry fish every two days. You know!


    “Life just got better, life just got merrier!” (V.V. Putin, 2014)

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!


    “My point, that if you have a central bank you can repay your debts, was that the US Fed, or any other central bank, can print money without limit. (That’s why Greece and Spain are in deep shit, as soon will Ukraine also be. They cannot print away their deficits.)


    Correct in general.

    Does Ukraine not have its own Central Bank? Simple yes or no would do.

  • Macky

    Technicolour; “I think we’ll leave readers of the thread to understand why I inserted the word ‘Russian’

    I think the more discerning have already understood.

    “As for when I last called”

    What no links to provide !? No, didn’t think so.

    I don’t think I have to smear you as anything, your own comments reveal all.

  • technicolour

    Yes, classic Macky; attack and attempt to destroy. No, no links for you.

    Habbakuk, have you never heard of the slave trade?

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    Technicolour writes

    “Strangely analogous to those people who accuse critics of the West as ‘haters of their country’.”

    To which Macky replies

    “No Technicolour, there is a difference between those who smear others as self-haters, and…”

    Macky apparently thinks that self-haters and haters of their country are the same thing.

    Sharpen up, O Blunt Knife!

  • technicolour

    Back to Ukraine, apparently, social media is heavily controlled there, which is why we’ve heard very little from it. Not a good thing, or sign.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    “Habbakuk, have you never heard of the slave trade?”

    Sure, Technicolour. But you’re not suggesting that the transportation of slaves to the New World was a matter of state policy, are you? Which is certainly what the deportation of nations in the Soviet Union was.

    The transport of slaves was made illegal everywhere in the west by the middle of the C19. The deportation in the Soviet Union took place almost a century later.

  • technicolour

    True. But either way, unelected despots ruling by force – and presumably ideology, though different ideologies. ‘We are better than’ (slaves/moujiks/tsarists/liberals/fascists) is probably the common ground.

  • Andy

    The Russian comparison between Kosovo and Crimea does land them in the logical soup, as Craig points out. But I’m mystified why such an experienced professional insists on seeing the Ukraine crisis in such black and white terms, with Putin as the undisputed heavy.

    To me, it’s clear he was responding to escalating chaos in Kiev (however obnoxious he and his pals may be). I also think the “cold war” never really ended for the US and British ruling elites. Something like this would probably have happened whoever was sitting in the Kremlin.

    A couple of corrections:

    1. The Indian PM has “urged Putin to engage diplomatically with the interim government in Kiev, which certainly would not be welcome to Putin”.

    Earlier this month, Putin said his PM (Medvedev) was in contact with one of the new ministers in Kiev, though it’s true he won’t allow any contact with the new president in Kiev.

    2. Yesterday, Putin “twice (said) the boundaries (between Ukraine and Russia) had not been demarcated. That seemed to indicate a very general threat to Eastern Ukraine.”

    Unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think the land border between Ukraine and Russia has been finally demarcated (partly due to Russian foot-dragging). If so, this remark doesn’t indicate any kind of “threat” to anyone.

    (Here’s a very interesting paper on the subject from a few years back by a Ukrainian academic teaching at the University of Vienna:

  • technicolour

    And in fact, Habbakuk, though it’s a stretch, there’s a rather convincing analysis which shows that the current capitalist model of employing desperate workers at subsistence rates is in fact much more economically attractive to the employer; as with slaves you had to provide food and accommodation, but under the Walmart/Nike model, you are released from these onerous obligations.

    Don’t expect you will want to watch it, but here are the Yes Men infiltrating a serious conference – the reactions are quite boggling:

  • technicolour

    Andy: “I also think the “cold war” never really ended for the US and British ruling elites”

    why do you think this?

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Now you contradict yourself. You are saying that any country with nukes will be targeted with nukes. While this is most certainly true, why then do you think that Ukraine will want US nukes more than Poland or Baltic nations? You claimed that US was after Ukraine to install their nukes to hit Russian with second wave. But then you dismissed the case that putin’s actions in Ukraine will encourage other eastern European nations (whose conventional weapons no match to Russian, mostly in quantity) to host US nukes or at least anti-nuke missiles in order to reduce putin’s will to Anschluss part of their country too. Is not this antithesis to your own thesis?

    In fact you sounded just like KGB propaganda brainwashed man. Why on earth do yo think that anyone is seriously considering nuclear war? Nuclear arms (since both US and USSR had them) served only as deterrence mechanism. Even in the highest times of Cold War although both countries were producing more and more of nukes, both were engaged more in diplomatic stand offs and proxy wars than with even possibilities of using nukes against each other. Term mutually assured distraction originated right at those times.

  • technicolour

    Habbakuk: got interested, didn’t mean to diminish the horrors of the Russian ‘revolution’, sorry.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    Prove me wrong please. Prove that Russian empire that is still expanding (Georgia, Ukraine who is next?) is not ruled by notion of Russian chauvinism. In fact because of this very notion it was always easy to manipulate Russians by their rulers. Russian were/are ready to sacrifice their lives for greatness of their nation. For Mother Russia they say.

    No wonder there have always been corrupt governments who by feeding people false hopes and ideas stashed their pockets with russian gold.

    Claiming that Crimean Anschluss was legal or moraly right and not allowing Chechens who were murdered by their thousands to even have opportunity to vote for whether they want to be ruled by Moscow is hypocrisy. Or only Russians are allowed to cast vote? Thsi actually what have happened in Crimea.

  • Andy

    Andy: “I also think the “cold war” never really ended for the US and British ruling elites”

    why do you think this?


    Basically, I don’t accept the usual definition of the “cold war”. So the process which most western historians/commentators etc. refer to using this label didn’t end in 1989 and continues to this day.

  • technicolour

    Andy, then what do you accept as a definition of the Cold War?

    Macky, random fire as always. Sad.

  • Uzbek in the UK


    There are certainly domestic drives for this new Russian assertiveness. Something that most MAD lefties miss (or hide) out.

    Looking years back, putin’s rating shot up when he showed his toughness in dealing with Chechen terrorists. None of the MAD lefties never questioned apartments blocks explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk. This and Chechen insurgency rades in Dagestan (I think all masterly staged by KGB to bring one of their own to power) left Russians devastated and humiliated. Putin’s harsh character and rhetoric and harsh actions that followed (see second Russian war in Chechnya) made him the most popular president after electoral votes have been accounted in 2000.

    9/11 and followed wars which resulted in mass death and also in oil/gas price hikes played on putin’s hands. In fact none of Russian media (and none of MAD lefties) report current level of corruption in Russia and the fact that Russian economy is more dependent on raw commodity exports even comparing to Yeltsin’s presidency.

    So in eyes of many Russians especially those who happily vote for putin he is associated with tough stance towards Russian ethnic minorities (especially Chechens) and so called Russian economic boom (so called because anyone who have read little about Russian economy would know where this surplus is actually coming from).

    So for putin to survive politically he MUST do 3 things. 1. Keep his tough stance against west and increase Russian assertiveness towards former colonies (Russian public loves him for this as we have witnessed after both wars against Georgia and latest Crimean Anschluss). 2. Make sure that money flow to Russia continues satisfying both his electorate and those who around him. 3. Make sure that no Russian private company is independent enough to challenge him (Hodorkovsky case was sufficient for putin to make sure that oligarchs are complacent with his policy).

    In fact what annoys me a LOT is that MAD lefties so critical about investment bankers and even some Russian oligarchs (like Abramovich or Usmanov) keep overlooking the fact that putin is largest Russian oligarchs with fortunes reported to hit over 50 billion USD.

  • The P*l*st*ne Precedent

    @Andy 9:32 Don’t really see a logical problem with Putin’s Kosovo analogy. There was a dispute. An ICJ judgment resolved the dispute with a ruling, which Putin quotes:

    “Pursuant to Article 2, Chapter 1 of the United Nations Charter, the UN International Court agreed with this approach and made the following comment in its ruling of July 22, 2010, and I quote: “No general prohibition may be inferred from the practice of the Security Council with regard to declarations of independence,” and “General international law contains no prohibition on declarations of independence.” Crystal clear, as they say.”

    The ref made the call. The court laid down the law. Russia’s position at the time is neither here nor there. UN member nations are now obligated to comply with this addition to the body of law.

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