By Deena Stryker
It would be too bad if the few Americans who pay attention to foreign policy took the Carnegie Moscow Center’s review of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s State of the Union speech, seriously. While it clocks in at just under a thousand words, Carnegie devoted 500 words to debunking it without a single quote. Tatiana Stanovaya faults Putin for failing to discuss Belarus and Ukraine, the only things Western governments are interested in, ignoring the raft of social measures that interest the Russian people:
“A sting operation by the intelligence agencies against members of the Belarusian opposition becomes, in Putin’s telling of it, a dangerous coup against his Belarusian counterpart, organized by the West, with Putin guilty for not revealing the contents of his subsequent meeting with Lukashenko.” (Never mind that most Americans could not find Belarus on a map.)
“Putin pledged that Russia ‘wants to have good relations with all participants of international society’, even as he noted that Russia’s modernized nuclear weapons systems were at the ready. ‘The organizers of any provocations threatening the fundamental interests of our security will regret their deeds more than they have regretted anything in a long time,’ Mr. Putin told a hall of governors and members of Parliament. ‘I hope no one gets the idea to cross the so-called red line with Russia — and we will be the ones to decide where it runs in every concrete case.’”
A more accurate review of Putin’s speech would show him chiding the gas company for failing to provide lines for residential areas, (a situation that he promised personally to check up on, while musing: “What good will this do, if it doesn’t change anything about life in villages or small towns, but only gives people a chance to watch high-speed trains and vehicles rush past,” calling for the development of a modern network.)
Health care is obviously a major focus of the Russian President, who announced new efforts to combat hepatitis C among young people, as well as a 20% discount on rail tickets to health spas, (which multiplied under Communism). The ‘wide-ranging action’ justifying accusations of authoritarianism included a pledge to provide more school buses, to ensure that all Russians were vaccinated against Covid 19 and that doctors give more heart and vascular tests.
While Americans can only dream of such government solicitude, the president of a country that covers 11 times zones considers it normal. Where the Carnegie Endowment sees ‘threats’ against a West innocent of provocations, Vladimir Putin sees “unfriendly moves, an unseemly routine where they pick on Russia for any reason, most often for no reason at all, a competition to see who can shout the loudest, for which the nuclear countries bear special responsibility.”
Putin responded indirectly to Biden’s hope for a one on one by reminding his listeners that he had proposed a meeting of the heads of state of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, confirming Russia’s view of a multi-polar world instead of one with a sole hegemon.
For the Carnegie reviewer alas, it’s:
“too early to tell whether Mr. Putin, 68, was pulling back from the brink. Now in his third decade in power, he appears more convinced than ever of his special, historic role as the father of a reborn Russian nation, fighting at home and abroad against a craven, hypocritical, morally decaying West.
“This sense of superiority mixed with arrogance gives him a feeling of power, and this is dangerous. When you think you are more powerful and more wise than everyone else around you, you think you have a certain historical mandate for more wide-ranging action.”
Although they will not be consulted on matters of survival, comments by American readers on Russia Today’s website are unlikely to agree with the Carnegie Endowment’s learned analysis.
Deena Stryker is a journalist and analyst, focused on geopolitics. She is the author of Russia’s Americans available at Amazon. In the 1960’s she conducted a multi-part interview with Fidel Castro and his associates. She has lived in Cuba, France, Poland and Hungary.