Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Putin's speech

Preliminary thoughts

Look how Putin used the twofold rhetorical camouflage I described yesterday:
*on the one hand, he appeals to Great Russian nationalism and Soviet nostalgia (Crimea has always been an inalienable part of Russia, Kyiv was the birthplace of Rus') and fear of fascism (the "Banderites" took control in Kyiv)
*on the other hand, he hijacks Western discourse about democracy, human rights and international law: we will protect the rights of the Crimean Tatars; the Crimean Tatars were victims of historical injustice (by my beloved USSR, but let's not mention that fact); the inevitable Kosovo analogy crops up; respecting the will of the Crimean people is democracy in action; respecting Russian opinion polls about protecting ethnic Russians is also democracy in action.

Putin really does want to reconstruct the USSR, maybe not as a proper political entity but as a sphere of influence. He doesn't want anyone meddling in "Russia's backyard" and this definitely includes Ukraine. There was a high level of anti-NATO paranoia, especially about the idea of NATO in Sevastopol (he kept repeating the mantra "Crimea and Sevastopol"). The dissolution of the USSR was an historical injustice. Yeah, we cut some territorial deals in the 1990s but they don't count any more; we only made them because we were weak at the time.

Putin is trying to depict Ukraine since 1991 as ungovernable and anarchic, in need of the stability only Putinist Russia can provide. Hypocritically, he has thrown his "anti-Orange" puppets like Yanukovych under the bus. (A thought: this is how Poland-Lithuania's neighbours partitioned the country in the 18th century: Russia, Prussia and Austria interfered with and undermined Polish democracy then portrayed the Commonwealth as a dangerous anarchic region which needed to be absorbed into the strong, centralised states which surrounded it).

A lot of anti-Western paranoia: the West has been menacing Russia since the 17th century.

Talk about a "fifth column of national traitors" really ominous. Expect further crackdowns on dissent in Russia.

Further thoughts

Putin made no concessions to the West. No de-escalation. Appeals to China and India. It's obvious Putin is not afraid of the EU, only NATO (count the NATO references in his speech). So far, the EU's response has been feeble and divided.

The "fifth column of traitors" may have particular relevance to dissenters within Crimea. A Crimean Tatar has already been murdered. The 3% of dissenters who did not boycott the referendum and voted against secession had better watch their backs. Putin's buddy Hugo Chavez showed the way with his "Tasc√≥n list" back in 2003-2004, where he tried to punish anyone who had signed a petition calling for a referendum to remove him. The list of petitioners was used to sack people, ruin careers, deny bank loans and otherwise intimidate opponents. Under international pressure, Chavez officially abandoned its use in 2005, but surreptitiously continued it. Maybe Aksyonov and his gangster friends will try to figure out who voted against them and proceed accordingly. Or perhaps that's too much effort and they'll just beat up anyone flying a Ukrainian flag and any Tatar who gets "uppity".

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