Sunday, May 22

Putin on the couch

The Russian foreign policy of the 20th century and the Ukraine war of 2022 cannot be understood without taking into account the particular personality of President Putin, a vain, conceited, arrogant and authoritarian politician, without a doubt, but who knows how to dominate the discourse of “ deep Russian culture, and that can channel it towards its particular purposes, which are also linked to a specific way of understanding the world from a periscope of the Kremlin, and without neglecting at any time its interpretation regarding the history of Russia and the USSR . If his speeches are analyzed, quite clear patterns can be found, which increase or decrease in intensity depending on the moment and the circumstances.

In this sense, Putin understands that Lenin made a serious mistake by going against Stalin’s plan to build the country on the principles of autonomy, and, instead, making concessions to the nationalists, whom he called “independents” at the time, because he had in mind to make a confederative state agreement, which was finally what was enshrined in the 1924 Constitution.

Putin, outraged at Lenin, laments that the territories that formed the USSR were given the de facto status and form of national state entities, an “overly generous gift” and unnecessary, since that gave the republics the right to separate from the unified state without any conditions.

In Putin’s words, “when it comes to the historical destiny of Russia and its peoples, Lenin’s principles on state development were not just a mistake; They were worse than a mistake.” Thus, and more disparagingly, for Putin, the Soviet Ukraine is the product of the Bolsheviks “and can legitimately be called ‘Vladimir Lenin’s Ukraine’. He was its creator and architect”. That includes the Leninist instructions regarding the Donbass region, which was pushed into the Ukraine. And, what’s more: for Putin, the Ukrainian population is now so ungrateful that it has knocked down the effigies of Lenin, in a process they call “decommunization.” But Putin shrewdly warns that “the virus of nationalist ambitions is still with us.”

This observation is valid for the entire territory that was part of the USSR, and that, in 1989, in a decision of the Central Committee of the CPSU, which Putin calls “fatal”, was the cause of the disintegration of the empire that he longs for so much, since the republics assumed the right to proclaim themselves sovereign, something that Putin has not quite forgiven, for which he affirms that “the disintegration of our country was caused by historical and strategic errors on the part of the Bolshevik leaders and the leadership of the CPSU”. In addition to being a mistake, for Putin it was also unfair, since the new Russia undertook to pay all the debts of the new republics, something that is estimated to have amounted to 100,000 million dollars.

In March 2014, and to justify the annexation of Crimea, he appealed to a common history and pride, referring to where the Holy Prince Vladimir was baptized. For Putin, “his spiritual feat, the appeal to Orthodoxy, predetermined the cultural base, value and common civilization that unites the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus… Each of these places is sacred to us, they are symbols of the Russian military glory and unprecedented courage.”

In Putin’s thinking, Crimea has always been and remains an integral part of Russia, despite the fact that the Bolsheviks had the bad idea to include Ukraine in territorial parts of Russia’s historic south, and that Khrushchev made the decision to transfer Crimea to the Ukraine in 1954, with the sole purpose, according to Putin, of obtaining the support of the Ukrainian nomenklatura and correcting the Stalinist repressions. In his opinion, when he came to power in 2000 he expected Ukraine to be a good neighbor and the rights of Russians living in some parts of the country to be respected.

However, Putin insists, “Russians were deprived of historical memory, and sometimes of their mother tongue, to make them the object of forced assimilation.”

A few years later, during the Maidan riots, in reality “a coup was carried out by nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites,” Putin believes. The new authorities, in addition, presented a draft law, later shelved, on the revision of the linguistic policy, which directly infringed the rights of national minorities. That is what motivated Russia’s intervention, taking refuge in the doctrine that protected Kosovo’s independence.

Criticism of the Ukrainian authorities, except the pro-Russian ones, is permanent in Putin’s speeches, calling kyiv officials “parasites”, who “began to build their statehood on the denial of everything that united us, trying to distort the historical reality of millions of people”. This would explain, in his opinion, the rise of “aggressive Neanderthal nationalism” of the extreme right, which quickly turned into aggressive Russophobia and neo-Nazism, with the participation of terrorist groups from the North Caucasus, external forces using NGO networks and services specials.

In conclusion, for Putin Ukraine never had stable traditions of a real state. It is rather a fiction, since it chose to emulate foreign models, without any relation to its own history, adjusting to the selfish interests of various clans and oligarchs, who made a pro-Western civilizational choice, and with radical politicians “infected with the virus of nationalism and corruption”, which has left Ukraine in poverty, lack of opportunities and loss of industrial and technological potential, in addition to being under the control of external hands, in particular the United States, without real sovereignty and “reduced to a colony with a puppet regime.”

In April 2021, in Putin’s annual speech before the Federal Assembly, he insisted on the resilient capacity of the Russian people, who “throughout history have been victorious and have passed the tests thanks to unity.” One aspect where Putin likes to put the discursive accent is in relation to spiritual and moral values, which, although in his opinion they are already being forgotten in some countries, in Russia they have strengthened the people and protected the family institution, a very effective argumentative resource, and that allows him to point out the importance of “our young people looking at and being inspired by the achievements and victories of our ancestors and outstanding contemporaries”.

Putin’s inordinate patriotism is what makes him admire a writer like Rudyard Kipling, so inclined to glorify colonialism, and to boast about it, since Putin is still a politician seeking to remake the old empire. This detail, pure anecdote, serves as an entry to point out that Putin’s speech is very aware of the misleading promises that were made to the new Russia after the dissolution of the USSR, such as the non-expansion of NATO, and that from there emerged, not only a justified resentment after the breaches and a criticism towards the attitudes that it considers contemptuous and disdainful about Russia’s interests and demands, which it considers legitimate, but also the total conviction that Russia is besieged, in “an unseemly routine in who attack Russia for whatever reason, in a kind of new sport of who shouts the loudest”.

Putin does not forget, and in this we must pay attention, that, when the USSR and the Warsaw Treaty disintegrated, being a moment of opportunities to create a Europe without blocs, on the contrary “we saw a state of euphoria created by the feeling of absolute superiority”, the arrogance of the West, which “tried to definitely squeeze us, finish us off and completely destroy us”, which for Putin also includes traditional values, which “directly leads to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature”.

This “geophilosophy” of Putin’s thought has many followers in Russia, where the perception has taken hold, and I say this in Putin’s own words, that “the problem is that, in the territories adjacent to Russia, what I have to point out is our historical land, a hostile “anti-Russian” is taking shape, so “for our country, it is a question of life and death, a question of our historical future as a nation. It is not only a very real threat to our interests, they are to the very existence of our State and to its sovereignty.” This perception can help to understand the reasons why Putin alludes to an “existential danger”, which for him could even justify the use of nuclear weapons.

In February 2022, already with the situation in Ukraine out of control, and to justify what he called a “special operation”, his speech was very vehement that Ukraine was an “inalienable part of Russia’s own history, culture and spiritual space”. Putin was referring to the need to act “as a single whole, despite the existence of state borders.”

In a celebrated speech on February 24, 2022, he ended by saying that “the culture and values, experience and traditions of our ancestors invariably provided a powerful foundation for the well-being and very existence of entire states and nations, their success and viability”.

Despite this speech and the fact that he had already begun to bomb them, he described the Ukrainians as “our comrades, the dearest to us, also relatives, people united by blood, by family ties”, and referring to the people who live in the Southwest, since time immemorial “have called themselves Russians and Orthodox Christians.” But, at the same time, he infantilized the Ukrainian citizenry by considering that it had become a foreign colony and with a privatized state that, in addition, in his opinion, tries to eradicate the Russian language, promotes assimilation, and tries to destroy the Orthodox Church. Ukrainian of the Moscow Patriarchate.

In mid-March 2022, with serious military problems in Ukraine and an unprecedented boycott by the EU and NATO countries, Putin’s critical speech changed script to appear rather paranoid, using coarse language, surely reflection of his despair at being attacked on so many fronts.

In his words, “The West will try to trust the so-called fifth column, the national traitors, those who make money here with us, but live there… Those people who, by their very nature, are mentally located there, and not here , they are not with our people, not with Russia… They cannot live without oysters and gender freedom. But any people, and even more so the Russian people, will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors, and simply spit them out like a mosquito, which accidentally flew into their mouths, spit them out on the pavement. I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to respond to any challenge.”

This language, which was accompanied by phrases such as “the country has not seen a unity like this in a long time”, or the permanent references to the fact that the “special operation” should be carried out to stop the “genocide” against the Russian population of Ukraine, was accompanied by a praise to the soldiers deceived and sent to the slaughterhouse, with the biblical phrase “there is no greater love than to give up one’s soul for one’s friends”, a curious quote for moments when the civilian population was being bombed .

In a televised interview in those days, the Pan-Slavist poetry of Fyodor Tyutchev was read, whose verses warned Russians that Europeans would consider them slaves of the Enlightenment. In short, Putin had already crossed all the steps of the process of creating enemy images, going beyond the dichotomy “us/them” and “those outsiders/those insiders”, and starting from historical grievances and threats of the present, ended up going to the stage of justifying the total destruction of the enemy, already dehumanized and turned into an animal –mosquito–, which must be fumigated to achieve social self-purification, paradoxically in a language very typical of Nazism that it intended to banish from Ukraine .