On March 1st, 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his Address to the Federal Assembly (the upper and lower chambers of the Russian parliament, i.e., the Federation Council and State Duma). This speech was, in all likelihood, not only of political, but of historic significance – first and foremost because of the foreign policy agenda voiced in the speech. The domestic policy dimension of Putin’s speech also deserves consideration in due time.
A number of important circumstances shaped Putin’s 2018 Address to the Federal Assembly. First of all, the head of state usually addresses the Federal Assembly in December, but at the end of last year it was announced that the event would be postponed. What caused this change? The easiest explanation would be that Russian presidential elections are approaching on March 18th. Without a doubt, Putin’s March 1st speech was delivered in a pre-election context.
Against Putin’s speech, which I am inclined to consider historic, the debates between the other presidential candidates look minuscule and even absurd. Nevertheless, I believe that this would be too strong of a simplification. Vladimir Putin confidently embraces the role of leader of Russia, and if he had merely desired to engage in some political advertising, then a whole range of other topics could have been chosen for his speech. Yet the main foreign policy message of Putin’s speech, in my opinion, cannot be discussed outside of a global context and, as follows, is of global significance. This message is encapsulated in a short phrase: continued deterioration of Russia-West relations will lead to the threat of a military clash.
This “militarization” of Putin’s speech cannot be explained in terms of electoral aims, which are indeed important but rather minor compared to the list of topics which Putin addressed. This was not an appeal to the electorate, but a call on the Russian nation on the eve of serious challenges and, perhaps, a great war.
In other words, on March 1st, 2018, Russians were witnesses not to a speech by Russian politician #1, but a calling by Russia’s Supreme Commander-in-Chief in anticipation of what is, in our opinion, an inevitable war with Ukraine and, as follows, the West (the US and NATO) standing behind it.
This is why I would call President’s Putin’s Address to the Federal Assembly a “Munich speech 2.0.” To recall, in 2007 in the capital of Bavaria, Putin presented a vivid and clear picture of the injustices of the unipolar world order. His speech was then called by US minions a return to the Cold War, just as his March 1st speech has been dubbed a return to the arms race. The 2018 Address developed the same theses of the Munich speech, but 11 years later and in a drastically changed international situation. I would summarize these changes in two points: (1) the collapse of Pax Americana has become obvious; and (2) precisely due to this crisis of American hegemony, the threat of a great war has increased drastically.
Today’s situation is at once cause for both optimism and anxiety. Of course, if one so wishes they can interpret the “militaristic” part of Putin’s speech as the apotheosis of Russian militarism, although this interpretation has already been sounded far and wide and I do not think that everyone saying such is insincere. But on exactly the same side of the hypothetical barricades, it must be understood that these weapons are not for conquest, but for defending our own territory.
Vladimir Putin, as is well known, as a KGB officer serving in East Germany at the time of its Anschluss by West Germany, saw with his own eyes the West’s deception and the treacherous stupidity of the gullible Soviet elites in the likes of Gorbachev, Shevardnadze, etc.
The broken gentleman’s promise not to expand NATO eastwards that was given to Gorbachev in exchange for agreeing to “let go” of the German Democratic Republic, the creation and deployment of new NATO units a few dozen kilometers from Russia’s northern capital of St. Petersburg, and the deployment of US missile “defense” bases in Romania and Poland – all of these actions are provocations of an arms race and steps towards a real hot war, not a cold one.
Russia has numerous, acute internal problems and the Russian leadership led by President Putin is, to put it mildly, far from successfully coping with all of them. But in the current situation, Russia’s very survival as a state is at stake. Thus, like many other times in Russia’s history, the Russian people have rallied around their leader, and all forces and resources will be dedicated to strengthening the country’s armed forces.
2018 will be a year of strenuous trials for Russia and Europe.