Vladimir Putin has called on Russians “not to lose ourselves as a nation,” to seek inspiration from the country’s traditional values rather than Western political models.
Russia had chosen the path of democracy, he said in his first major speech since returning to the presidency, but defined that as “the power of the Russian people with their traditions” and “absolutely not the realization of standards imposed on us from outside.”
He struck a chauvinistic note, implicitly defending the decision to force overseas-funded civil society groups to brand themselves as “foreign agents.”
“Direct or indirect outside interference in our internal political processes is unacceptable,” Putin said in his speech in the Kremlin. “People who receive money from abroad for their political activities — most likely serving foreign national interests — cannot be politicians in the Russian Federation.”
The chauvinistic tone had a political purpose, said former Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky.
“As long as Putin talks about patriotism he is obliged to show that somewhere the anti-patriots are hiding. He seeks them among mythical political structures which are supposedly financed abroad,” he told AFP. “It is a phantom topic.”
Pavlovsky was equally dismissive of Putin’s declared intention to root out high-level corruption, suggesting that low- and middle-rank officials would likely bear the brunt.
“Putin had failed to send a message of purging the high ranks,” the strategist told the Interfax news agency:
The opposition ridiculed Putin’s statements as lacking substance and novelty. “Everything will be fine soon, I promise,” opposition activist Alexei Navalny wrote, sarcastically summing up the address.
Another opposition activist, Vladimir Ryzhkov, called the speech a “manifesto of preserving political status quo.”
Putin’s patriotic theme was anticipated after a Kremlin commission referred to a unique Russian “civilization” in outlining a new “strategy of state nationalities policy”, earlier this week.
“Thanks to the unifying role of the Russian people……..a unique sociocultural civilisational community on the historical territory of the Russian state has formed: the multinational Russian nation,” reads a representative sentence from the document, seen by the Financial Times:
The new approach is a classic example of “dog whistle” politics – a politically loaded message inaudible to all but Russian conservatives and nationalists, who see its significance in two ways: an imperial instead of a civic concept of nation which simultaneously implies that Russia belongs to a civilisation other than the west.
The strategy is likely to encounter resistance from non-Russian nationalities.
The document is a “trial balloon” by hardline Russian nationalists who hope to “create a unitary nation” by abolishing or diluting national autonomous republics, home to a number of non-Russian peoples, said Rafael Mukhametdinov, a historian from the republic of Tatarstan.
“They feel there might be a crisis – just as happened to the Soviet Union, when all the republics separated and headed for the exits. There is no reason why the same thing cannot happen now to Russian Federation,” Mr Mukhametdinov said.
Putin’s uncompromising tone will only add credence to arguments that the reset of US-Russian relations is in need of a…er, reset.
“As President Obama approaches his second term, few foreign policies are more in need of reassessment than his stance toward Russia,” say two leading analysts.
“[G]lib formulations and major energy projects should not cover up the fundamental choice the two administrations face: to continue their transactional approach to relations, with their inevitable ups and downs, or to put relations in a broader, longer-term strategic framework, which could foster more enduring constructive relations,” according to Thomas E. Graham, senior director of Kissinger Associates, and Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center:
A choice in favor of the former faces two problems. First, it is hard to see where progress can be made in the next four years. ………Putin’s recent preference for trade and investment requires a qualitatively different business climate in Russia, including the de facto rule of law and competent, honest governance. Fruitful cooperation on regional conflicts, as Syria has demonstrated, requires dealing with the age-old principles of world order, sovereignty and noninterference in internal affairs, and the growing Western preference to use force to protect foreign populations from brutal leaders.
Second, domestic political conditions in neither country are conducive to pursuing such trade-offs. Incensed by Washington’s insistence on dealing simultaneously with the Russian government and Russian society, Putin has taken steps — from branding foreign-funded non-governmental organizations as “foreign agents” to ending the U.S. Agency for International Development’s 20 years of work in Russia — that do not make it politically easier for Obama to sell closer engagement with Moscow.
“By contrast, a strategic approach would start with the geopolitical transformation now underway across the globe and ask how each country could become a strategic asset for the other,” Graham and Trenin contend:
So far, both the U.S. administration and the Kremlin have resisted taking a strategic approach. …On the U.S. side, this oversight grows in part out of the discomfort America has with the very idea of Russian power, grounded in the long Cold-War struggle. Having confronted malevolent Soviet power for so long, America resists the idea that Russia could ever have a positive role in American strategic interests.
On the Russian side, there is still great resentment over the way the United States treated Russia after the end of the Cold War, and a fair amount of suspicion that U.S. policy is aimed at weakening Russia today.
“There is no guarantee that we would reach agreement,” the analysts suggest. “Indeed, a strategic dialogue could reveal unbridgeable differences. But the potential benefits of strategic cooperation justify the effort.”