The long-awaited – and often postponed – Vladimir Putin’s speech to the assembled chambersan appointment skipped in 2022 despite being a precise constitutional obligation of the Russian president, had to finally give the Russians, people and elite, clear ideas and objectives: what is the war that a year earlier he had launched against Ukraine, what objectives arises, which victory (or at least not defeat) it pursues, with which tools it should be conducted and when (at least in intention) to finish.
Accusations against the West
On the eve of the president’s intervention, the most extreme hypotheses were circulating for Moscow: from the dismissal of the government and military leaders to the proclamation of the total mobilization of the population and the economy, passing through the announcement of a new Union formed with the annexation of the Belarus together with enclave georgiane South Ossetia e Abkhazia. None of the observers had bet on the announcement of a truce and/or a negotiation process, e only a few had ventured the prediction that Putin would ultimately produce nothing new.
The latter were right: except for the final tailspin, with the surprise announcement of the “suspension” of the treaty on strategic armaments New Startthe president’s speech was a repetition of many of his other utterances, all built according to the same scheme of the defense of one’s reasons, mixed with resentment for the West. The passage on the sexual perversions of Europe, where “paedophilia is normal”, and on the historic plot against Russia, which began with “the Austro-Hungarian project to tear away the Russian lands already in the nineteenth century” and continued with the affirmation that “it was the West that raised Nazi Germany”.
A lot of space was devoted to Russian achievements, with praise for one economy that would have resisted the sanctionsand new welfare promises, with an increase of minimum salary and the establishment of a social fund for the military. It is not clear with what money the Kremlin will have to pay for these benefits, given that in February the Russian government’s expenditures exceeded revenues by a factor of five, with a record deficit. On the other hand, Putin has also launched messages of détente: he has promised not to take measures against the Russians who fled his regime abroad, disappointing the hawks of the Duma who competed to propose punishments ranging from the confiscation of assets at home to prison for treason. And he assured that the gubernatorial and presidential elections will be held within the pre-established times, the former in 2023, the latter in 2024.
A message that would be reassuring: nothing changes, the “special military operation” does not become war, and no further tightening is imposed on the weary and fearful Russians. On the other hand, the signal is all too clear: it is Putin who decides and ensures compliance with the political calendar, and at this point it is clear that if the elections will be held as scheduled, it is because the candidate and the winner have already been decided. There transition of power towards a feared dolphin what is expected from Putin’s nomenclature is not on the horizon: the war has definitively consolidated a model of power from an almost absolute monarchy.
The way Putin added to his speech at the last moment, and apparently with his own hands, the passage on New Start proves it. The Foreign Ministry, a body that in recent years has transformed itself from a diplomatic body into a propaganda antenna, had to take remedial measures, arguing that the suspension was “reversible” and that Russia would continue to respect the ceiling imposed by the treaty at its arsenals, fueling suspicions that Putin had threatened to blow up the deal only to avenge Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv.
A regime towards disintegration?
The result was a long-winded and contradictory speech, which alternated between threats and proclamations, and which convinced both the hawkish and the less hawkish of a truth that many suspected, but dared not admit: Putin has no planleast of all a plan B, and is trying to navigate between the physical impossibility of winning over Ukraine and the inadmissibility of a backtracking which he sees as the end of his reign. Which paradoxically may not be true: the Russians, the nomenclature as well as the people, are so frightened and displaced by a war that is heading towards disaster, that they are probably ready to cheer anyone who takes them back to at least February 23 last year.
If anything, it is the war that is accelerating the disintegration of the regime, and the now explicit clash between Evgeny Prigozhinthe leader of the army of the Wagner mercenaries, and the Ministry of Defence, is clearly demonstrating this. A retreat could postpone the showdown, freeing up the repressive resources that Putin could use against his critics, and the economic resources that would serve to buy back the consent of the population. Hope remains that it is the terms of a march that the Russian president has been discussing with Wang Yi, the head of diplomacy of the Communist Party of China and the first high-ranking Beijing emissary to visit Moscow in a year. While waiting to find out what the Chinese peace plan consists of, the doubt arises whether Xi Jinping is responding in this way to Washington’s exhortations to take positions against Moscow. And that the “new Yalta” so often requested by Putin could embarrass him, because it would not have Russia as the protagonist.
Cover photo ANSA/Kremlin Press Office