By Tatyana Orel
Last week, Vladimir Putin delivered an annual message to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation that was listened to with unprecedented attention both in Russia, in Ukraine, and in the West. It was not because the Russian President reached the summit of the art of eloquence in his 2014 message. Millions of people tried to guess the secret sense of intonations and phrases in the speech of the one who threatened European security.
Summing up the results of the year, he first of all mentioned the Crimea whose capture he probably considers as the main achievement of Russia. Despite "the hard and tense time ahead", he urged Russians to regard Western economic sanctions as "an incentive for more effective and accelerated achievement of goals." This is rhetoric in the best traditions of Brezhnev's times.
According to the Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin, it is the sanctions that Putin blames for the ever worsening problems of Russian economy.
Putin did not even mention the unfortunate Novorossiya project that cost Ukraine thousands of lives. As well as self-proclaimed "DNR" and "LNR" where pensioners are staving to death now, where there is no work and the banking system does not function.
Dmitry Oreshkin considers that Putin will still maintain the smouldering war in the east of Ukraine – it is the only way to create an illusion of power for him. Russia with its fading economy has no chances for victory in an honest competition.
– Dmitry Borisovich, what do you think is ciphered in Putin's message to Federal Assembly?
– There is emptiness ciphered in Putin's message. The speech is written in the Soviet genre: it begins with the international situation, then some shortcomings are exposed, and at the end – the purposes are clear, the tasks are set, get down to work, comrades. It should be treated in the same Soviet way, paying attention to what was not told rather than to what was told.
– Judging by the fact that Putin did not say practically anything about Ukraine, this subject is the most painful for him…
– This is unwillingness to draw attention to the situation with Ukraine and deception of the so-called Novorossiya. Actually, Putin has neither economic, nor political, nor diplomatic in the international sense, nor even military resources to expand the ideology of Novorossiya. Therefore, he preferred to omit this topic having concentrated on the Crimea. Those who are used to reading party documents can figure out the signal: we let down Novorossiya because all the same we cannot do anything there.
– A broken abandoned toy that cost thousands lives, including those of Russian soldiers.
– He will not allow the bleeding wound in the east of Ukraine to skin over. But he has no resources to conduct military operations. This time has already passed. He will send some diversionary groups, but nothing more. However, Russia leaves the Crimea to itself as a symbol of the victory of Putin’s vertical.
Ukraine should be aware that its neighbour is mentally inadequate which is accurately traced in Putin's message. Yes, we will not give the Crimea, but there is another black hole in the Russian budget. After all, he does not mention what happens in the Crimea, but, according to official data, GDP fell by 11% there.
– Putin is doing his best convince Russians that the consequences of the annexation of the Crimea are justified by historical justice. Sacral shrines such as ancient Korsun, Chersonese, and Sevastopol returned to Russia…
– According to the international law in particular recognized by Russia, the Crimea was a sovereign territory of Ukraine. Russia sends troops to the Crimea, a referendum on separation is held there with violation of all norms of the international law. These are obvious facts – Russia appears to be an aggressor from all points of view. In his message, therefore, Putin addresses the Russian community rather than the international one and shunts the discussion from the legal field to the metaphorical, metaphysical, and rhetorical one.
A foul medieval logic. You never know what was ours once? Why did he forget Kiev – mother of Russian cities? Why is not Kiev "ours"? Because he does not have the guts. Following this logic, Chechnya should be separated because Islamic fighters can say that thousands of Muslim brothers suffer from the yoke of the Judaic and Christian Moscow regime and that they have the historical, ideological, and religious right and duty to protect their Islamic brothers from Kremlin monsters. And, from the legal point of view, Putin will not be able to respond to it. Therefore, he shifts the problem from the legal discourse to the fantastic one.
He brings Russia back in the Middle Ages, and many of his companions cheer him, but there are professional lawyers and cultural specialists who understand that it is an obvious fact of archaization and degradation of consciousness. And he dares act on behalf of the nation – a person who became president by means of electoral falsifications.
– And he tries to distract people from Russian economic problems with these fairy tales.
– People in Russia said two months ago: we do not care about the sanction, they will only strengthen Russian internal economy. Even a poor person can see advantages of his poverty. But now Putin makes sanctions a key element for explaining his economic failures. It is good for Ukraine in a sense – it means that Russia has less resource for expansion. But it will be enough for Ukraine – so you should not relax. He cannot leave Ukraine because he will lose his face in this case.
It will be a disaster for "collective Putin" if Ukraine demonstrates economic growth. He will do everything to prevent it. Otherwise it will become very evident how inefficient Putin’s vertical economic model is. Ukraine poses a serious threat for him in this sense. He needs an ever smouldering war so that it would not happen.
– Will Putin seek other ways to destabilize Ukraine against the background of military resources running short, for example, through the bribery of politicians and high-ranking officials?
– Certainly. As he loses fair economic struggle, he will stake on corruption and arrange pre-paid sabotage. He is furious because he feels in a mousetrap he has caught himself. He does not seek for the expansion of the sphere of influence any more, he gave up Donbass long ago, but he tries to protect what he has. He has to keep the Crimea by all means, because the Crimea is his face, his symbol.
If Ukraine decides on market reforms even if they are very hard, Russia will be under a disadvantage even with its raw economy. We have already seen it on the example of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Baltic states that experienced great difficulties but managed to grow over 20 years and are now able to provide their population with such level of income, that Russia cannot ensure with all its coal, oil, gas, gold, and diamonds.
– Do you think that Putin did not expect the consequences of his aggression in relation to Ukraine to be so serious?
– No. He miscalculated in several aspects at the same time. Firstly, he was sure that the West is weak, cowardly, and greedy, and will swallow annexation of the Crimea and war on Donbass for the sake of oil and gas the same way it once swallowed military operations of Russia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It was his tactical mistake. Besides, he believed reports on mass sentiments of the inhabitants of the east of Ukraine in favour of accession to Russia. It is non-professionalism, and, maybe, even evil will of those who pushed him to this decision.
Yes, the east of Ukraine does not like the West, perhaps, it does not like Kiev, but it is not going to be subordinate to Russia. As far as I understand, the east wanted more rights, more independence, but not separation from Ukraine.
Putin was also sure that his people in the Security Service of Ukraine and in armed forces completely control the situation and will not allow the Ukrainian army to demonstrate serious resistance. It worked out in the Crimea, and everything was done quickly. He did not expect Ukraine to create efficient army within several months – no matter that there were torments, blood, mistakes, and treachery. If Russia tries advance from the East of Ukraine, huge losses of Russian troops will be inevitable. He cannot afford it.
– He looked somewhat pitiful and unconvincing in front of the Federal Assembly and the world community – his speech was also followed in the West.
– Well, it is better seen from far away. People still give him long and loud cheers here. Generally speaking, he made a mistake. He thought that everything will work out in the east as it did in the Crimea, but he is being driven away like a scalded cat from there. Everything he can do now is to retreat with a victorious appearance concealing his defeat, which was shown in his speech.
He had the same geopolitical defeat in Transnistria which is clamped between Ukraine and Moldova that are focused on Europe. By the way, nobody mentions Transnistria at all in Russia. "DNR" and "LNR" will not be mentioned either soon. Continuous defeats and no victories except the Crimea that brings only headache and no pleasure.
– Judging by the recent events in Grozny, Chechnya can become another headache for Putin…
– These events could be regarded as a local conflict, but actually the problem looks much more serious. Some bearded people climbed down the mountains with heavy weapons, they shot tanks, seized two buildings, though they were fewer than ten persons. Something is wrong here. We are not told the truth, of course. Most likely, it is a kind of mutiny in a certain part of Chechen security officers that means that Kadyrov has lost control over them.
It all appears natural to me. Putin's regime runs out of money, and problems arise. Putin paid Kadyrov for his loyalty from an oil barrel, and Kadyrov bought loyalty of lower clans. Now that the oil fell in price and the sanctions are effective, internal showdowns can begin both in Chechnya and somewhere in Dagestan.