In laying out the reasons for Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin outlined the need for a new international system to address failings and inadequacies of the immediate post-Cold War period.
Russian President Vladamir Putin (second right), the State Council of Crimea Vladimir Konstantinov (second left), Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov (left), and the mayor of Sevastopol Alexei Chaly. Source: RG / Konstantin Zavrazhin
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Crimea and Sevastopol had been annexed to Russia, after which he signed the relevant treaties. The president's 50-minute speech, in which he explained why Crimea and Sevastopol should join Russia, was repeatedly interrupted by applause, and some remarks even received a standing ovation.
"This is an historic moment," admired audience members on leaving St. George's Hall inside the Kremlin, where Putin's delivered his speech. No mention was made of the economic aspects of Russia's annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol.
Putin referred to the unambiguous results of the referendums in Crimea and Sevastopol, and assured that their accession to Russia would restore a degree of historical justice. Justifying the legality of Russia's territorial acquisitions, Putin recalled the recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
He also reproached the U.S. and the West for failing to observe international norms in the past.
"They are so sure of their chosen status… Randomly using force against sovereign countries," he said in recollection of the bombing of Yugoslavia and the events in Libya.
The historical anti-Russian slant of the West's activity was also pointed out: "We have every reason to believe that the notorious policy of containing Russia in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries is being pursued to this day."
"Putin effectively suggested that the international community should take steps to wrap up — in deed, not word — that period of Western unipolar deafness and overreaching ambitions which arose at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union due to the incomplete and incorrect conclusion of the Cold War. Putin proposed a new set of principles of international order based on common standards of international law, truth, justice, and respect for national interests," explains the director of the pro-Kremlin ISEPI Foundation, Dmitry Badovsky.
Badovsky believes that this speech and the annexation of Crimea emphasize the importance of Putin’s pre-election campaign article in 2012, which was called “Russia is focused” (after the famous saying by Chancellor Alexander Gorchakov following the Crimean War). It stated that the post-Soviet period in the development of the country and the world as a whole was finished and complete.
In contrast, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul opines that Putin's actions are a serious blow to those Americans and Russians who believed in the possibility of a prosperous, democratic, strong, and respectable Russia, fully integrated into the international community and a stable partner of the U.S. in dealing with common threats and realizing common interests.
"The existing post-Cold War order has ended, but the next stage in the history of Europe is not yet defined, and that is causing anxiety, uncertainty, and tension. In most cases, annexation is a reflex reaction. It was wrong," said McFaul.
Russia's actions really are an attempt to revise the system of international relations in the post-Cold War period, and some of Putin’s grievances are valid, says Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Center. But it is not clear why Russia, if it condemns the U.S. [on Kosovo], is on the same path. A period of new confrontation is clearly brewing in the international arena, followed by new sanctions and no grounds for a return to normal relations with the West, says Lipman.
For the time being, Russia stands alone as a new pole. Those countries that do not support the U.S. are not ready to support Russia, since they themselves have territorial issues, adds Lipman.
More than once Putin used the word “russky” [“Russian” referring to the ethnic group] instead of “rossiisky” [“Russian” referring to the political entity], which indicates that the Ukrainian crisis has shifted the rhetoric towards ethnic nationalism, rather than imperial statehood, which the president was always noted for, Lipman points out.
Badovsky objects: "In some sense it represents a restoration of the traditional view of Russian statehood, according to which to be ‘russky’ means to serve Russia."
In a country where nationalist slogans such as "Russia for Russians" periodically ring out, it is very dangerous, believes Lipman. It was uttered in the context of historical retrospection. In its municipal anthem, Sevastopol is described as a “city of Russian sailors,” explains the head of the Foundation for Civil Society Development, Konstantin Kostin. The leader of United Russia is in solidarity: His words were chosen in accordance with the situation.
The president also mentioned national traitors who could be exploited by foreign foes. Such words could lead to purges and a tightening of the screws, and in times of economic downturn, patriotic intoxication is easier to mobilize than economic resources, fears Lipman.
“There is no talk of purges,” assures Kostin. “The fifth column is made up of people who wish to see their country defeated for their own political ends,” he says.
The article was first published in Russian in Vedomosti.ru