Vladimir Putin excoriated the West in a speech on Thursday, comparing his foreign opponents to Adolf Hitler in their desire to destroy Russia while reminding foes that his armed forces were “polite but menacing”.
Speaking at the Kremlin in his annual address to parliament, Russia’s president defended his decision to annexe Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in the spring, saying that it was a place as sacred to Russians as holy sites in Jerusalem for Jews or Muslims.
He said that Russia faced a threat to its very existence from western states and accused the United States of manipulating Russia’s neighbours – in particular, Ukraine – in an attempt to subordinate Moscow to Washington’s will.
“If for many European countries, sovereignty and national pride are forgotten concepts and a luxury, then for the Russian Federation a true sovereignty is an absolutely necessary condition of its existence,” Mr Putin told MPs, ministers and regional leaders. “I want to stress: either we will be sovereign, or we will dissolve in the world. And, of course, other nations must understand this as well.”
Mr Putin said foreign foes of Russia had supported similar separatists “up to their elbows in blood” in the 1990s and early 2000s, but without success. “They would have been delighted to let us go the way of Yugoslavia and the dismemberment of the Russian peoples, with all the tragic consequences. But it did not happen. We did not allow it to happen.”
He added: “It also didn’t work out for Hitler, who with his man-hating ideas wanted to destroy Russia and throw us beyond the Urals. It would be good to remind everyone of how that ended.”
The Russian leader opened his speech by praising Russians for “going through an ordeal that only a united nation, a truly strong and sovereign state, could shoulder”…
The comment on the Crimea being a ‘holy site’ seems bizarre to me. I have found more information on this from the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor newsletter (not on their site yet):
In his speech, Putin, visibly agitated, strongly defended the occupation and annexation of Crimea as “just and absolutely legal.” The president declared Crimea and Sevastopol “not only strategically important, [but] the spiritual source of the Russian nation.”
According to legend, in the 10th century CE, Vladimir, the Grand Prince of Kyiv, was baptized in Chersonesus—a Greek colony in the outskirts of present-day Sevastopol, under Byzantine rule at the time. Putin declared “Crimea, ancient Cherson and Sevastopol sacred to Russia” and compared them to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. “[T]hat is our position now and forever,” he asserted (kremlin.ru, December 4).
Last night I read an article at the Financial Times, ‘Can Vladimir Putin’s popularity weather a perfect economic storm?’ Excerpt:
During Vladimir Putin’s first two terms as Russian president, from 2000 to 2008, rising oil prices allowed him to rule according to an unwritten bargain with his people: sacrifice some of your democratic freedoms and we will deliver rising living standards.
Since he returned for a third term in 2012 with Russia’s economy stalling, Mr Putin has offered a new implicit deal built around this year’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine: give up more freedoms and we will make Russia a great power again…
Yet whether this new bargain can prove as durable or successful as its predecessor is far from clear. It is being tested by a perfect economic storm, which threatens to reverse the rise in living standards that was the original source of Mr Putin’s popularity.
Western sanctions imposed over Ukraine have combined with an unexpected plunge in global oil prices to produce a sharp drop in the rouble and a combination of rising inflation and impending recession.
At least one commenter suggested he would just blame the West itself.
I’m not sure FT columnists appreciate just how insulated Russian people are from prevailing “international” (read, Anglo-Saxon) commentary. To them, any economic difficulties will be blamed squarely on the West. It’s a problem the West has not been able to crack for the last 15 years.
There is a quite extraordinary fiction, which this article desperately seeks to maintain, that somehow the Russian people will consider that these hostilities are because of President Putin’s bad behaviour. In fact, the Russian people feel that the hostilities are because the West seeks to punish all of Russia for coming to the aid of Russian speakers in east and south of Ukrraine.
We can scarcely be blamed for the oil prices, but he can point to the sanctions and pushback on Ukraine.