To understand Russia, it is important to observe closely the public face the President puts on the actions and policies of the Russian government. Of course, it is equally important to pay careful attention to what the President and his subordinates actually do on the ground, in reality. The latest presentation of the public face took place on Thursday.
President Vladimir Putin delivered an important speech on November 4, 2014, in which he set out his views on the challenges facing Russia. One topic was the Ukraine.
Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, December 4, 2014. The English txt of the speech is found here.
Of course, we will talk about this year’s landmark events. You know that a referendum was held in Crimea in March, at which its residents clearly expressed their desire to join Russia. After that, the Crimean parliament – it should be stressed that it was a legitimate parliament that was elected back in 2010 – adopted a resolution on sovereignty. And then we saw the historical reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia.
It was an event of special significance for the country and the people, because Crimea is where our people live, and the peninsula is of strategic importance for Russia as the spiritual source of the development of a multifaceted but solid Russian nation and a centralised Russian state. It was in Crimea, in the ancient city of Chersonesus or Korsun, as ancient Russian chroniclers called it, that Grand Prince Vladimir was baptised before bringing Christianity to Rus.
In addition to ethnic similarity, a common language, common elements of their material culture, a common territory, even though its borders were not marked then, and a nascent common economy and government, Christianity was a powerful spiritual unifying force that helped involve various tribes and tribal unions of the vast Eastern Slavic world in the creation of a Russian nation and Russian state. It was thanks to this spiritual unity that our forefathers for the first time and forevermore saw themselves as a united nation. All of this allows us to say that Crimea, the ancient Korsun or Chersonesus, and Sevastopol have invaluable civilisational and even sacral importance for Russia, like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the followers of Islam and Judaism.
And this is how we will always consider it.
We cannot fail to mention today our perspective on the developments in Ukraine and how we intend to work with our partners around the world.
It is well known that Russia not only supported Ukraine and other brotherly republics of the former Soviet Union in their aspirations to sovereignty, but also facilitated this process greatly in the 1990s. Since then, our position has remained unchanged.
Every nation has an inalienable sovereign right to determine its own development path, choose allies and political regimes, create an economy and ensure its security. Russia has always respected these rights and always will. This fully applies to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
If for some European countries national pride is a long-forgotten concept and sovereignty is too much of a luxury, true sovereignty for Russia is absolutely necessary for survival.
Primarily, we should realise this as a nation. I would like to emphasise this: either we remain a sovereign nation, or we dissolve without a trace and lose our identity. Of course, other countries need to understand this, too. All participants in international life should be aware of this. And they should use this understanding to strengthen the role and the importance of international law, which we’ve talked about so much lately, rather than bend its standards to suit someone’s strategic interests contrary to its fundamental principles and common sense, considering everyone else to be poorly educated people who can’t read or write.
It is imperative to respect the legitimate interests of all the participants in international dialogue. Only then, not with guns, missiles or combat aircraft, but precisely with the rule of law will we reliably protect the world against bloody conflict. Only then, will there be no need to scare anyone with imaginary self-deceptive isolation, or sanctions, which are, of course, damaging, but damaging to everyone, including those who initiate them.
Speaking of the sanctions, they are not just a knee-jerk reaction on behalf of the United States or its allies to our position regarding the events and the coup in Ukraine, or even the so-called Crimean Spring. I’m sure that if these events had never happened – I want to point this out specifically for you as politicians sitting in this auditorium – if none of that had ever happened, they would have come up with some other excuse to try to contain Russia’s growing capabilities, affect our country in some way, or even take advantage of it.
The policy of containment was not invented yesterday. It has been carried out against our country for many years, always, for decades, if not centuries. In short, whenever someone thinks that Russia has become too strong or independent, these tools are quickly put into use.
However, talking to Russia from a position of force is an exercise in futility, even when it was faced with domestic hardships, as in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Next year, we will mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Our Army crushed the enemy and liberated Europe. However, we should not forget about the bitter defeats in 1941 and 1942 so as not to repeat the mistakes in the future.
In this context, I will touch on an international security issue. There are many issues related to this. These include the fight against terrorism. We still encounter its manifestations, and of course, we will participate in the joint efforts to counter terrorism on the international level. Of course, we will work together to deal with other challenges, such as the spread of infectious diseases.
However, in this case I would like to speak about the most serious and sensitive issue: international security. Since 2002, after the US unilaterally pulled out of the ABM Treaty, which was absolutely a cornerstone of international security, a strategic balance of forces and stability, the US has been working relentlessly to create a global missile defence system, including in Europe. This poses a threat not only to Russia,but to the world as a whole – precisely due to the possible disruption of this strategic balance of forces.
I believe that this is bad for the US as well, because it creates the dangerous illusion of invulnerability. It strengthens the striving for unilateral, often, as we can see, ill-considered decisions and additional risks.
The period ahead will be complex and difficult, when much will depend on what each one of us do at our workplaces. The so-called sanctions and foreign restrictions are an incentive for a more efficient and faster movement towards our goals.
There is much we need to do. We need to create new technologies, a competitive environment and an additional margin of strength in the industries, the financial system and in the training of personnel. We have a large domestic market and natural resources, capital and research projects for this. We also have talented, intelligent and diligent people who can learn very quickly.
The most important thing now is to give the people an opportunity for self-fulfilment. Freedom for development in the economic and social spheres, for public initiatives is the best possible response both to any external restrictions and to our domestic problems. The more actively people become involved in organising their own lives, the more independent they are, both economically and politically, and the greater Russia’s potential.
In this context, I will cite one quote: “He who loves Russia should wish freedom for it; above all, freedom for Russia as such, for its international independence and self-sufficiency; freedom for Russia as a unity of Russian and all other ethnic cultures; and finally, freedom for the Russian people, freedom for all of us: freedom of faith, of the search for truth, creativity, work, and property.” Ivan Ilyin. This makes a lot of sense and offers a good guideline for all of us today.
Readers are invited to read these excerpts, and to contribute to the analysis in the Comments box below or by e-mail.
Further analysis will follow.
The Trenchant Observer