Analysis by Vitalii Holich
23 December in Moscow, Vladimir Putin held his 17th annual press conference, during which he responded to questions about Russian troops near Ukrainian borders and addressed NATO again about its «eastward expansion».
Despite the attempts to imitate righteous anger because of the West «surrounding» Russia with its military, Putin didn’t refer to the other part of his press-conference where he talked about the development of friendly relations with China, in particular in the field of «innovative weapons.» On the background of such rhetoric, the Russian victim complex looks far from innocent.
Due to the coronavirus situation, as the officials commented on this, media representatives were not accredited for broadcasting the event, but invited after a proper selection by the government ministry «Rospotrebnadzor», Radio Liberty wrote. Hence, only a few independent or foreign news companies, titled «foreign agents» according to Russia’s legislature, were allowed to attend, in particular BBC, Sky News and a non-state TV-channel «Dozhd’» (Rain).
Putin traditionally began the meeting with addressing the internal affairs, reading numbers from the paper in the style of Soviet General Secretary and trying to convince the public that Russia did generally better than the leading world economies during the pandemic. Moreover, he mentioned Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in 2014, among Russia’s most prosperous regions, without saying a word about the water crisis there which was regularly reported in the global media. Still, he didn’t avoid the obvious questions about Russia’s aggressive military activity near the borders of Ukraine.
After receiving the first «indirect» question from «Komsomolskaya pravda» (Russian state media with Soviet roots) regarding external threats to Russia, Putin briefly postponed it to later in the conference. However, a representative of another state media soon repeated the question in a more direct manner: should Russian citizens prepare for war?
Putin’s main points on this topic were the following:
«It seems that they (Ukrainians) prepare a third military operation in Donbas and tell us not to interfere.»
He developed further fantasies about Ukrainian plans to create anti-Russia on that territory, «brainwash» the population, and put weapons there to «make Russia always feel fear».
This sounds, at least, as hypocrisy if not self-humiliation, since the country with world’s largest territory and ambitions of global rule claims that it’s afraid of a thirty-times smaller state which it doesn’t even acknowledge. Nevertheless, appealing to his assumption, Putin aims to present the troops near Ukrainian borders as the means of defence, although Ukraine has’t shown any signs of such plans nor foreign observers recorded anything similar. Probably, this rhetoric seems to be directed entirely to the Russian population. Moreover, «brainwashing» and incitement to hatred are the main elements of Russian propaganda itself, especially in the occupied Donbas, as EUvsDisinfo stated.
Putin’s rhetoric on the conference also contradicted the previous claims of Russian officials, when the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the information about Russian military build-up near Ukrainian borders and convicted Western media in sharing fakes. Nevertheless, now, Putin doesn’t reject the possibility to attack, referring to his second point about «threat» from NATO:
«Our actions will depend not on the further discussions, but on the unconditional guarantee of Russia’s security. Further eastward movement of NATO is unacceptable for Russia»
Answering the question of the Sky News representative, the Russian leader pointed to the unwritten promise of NATO’s officials after the collapse of the Soviet Union not to expand eastward, and convicted the organisation in breaking this promise after Baltic states, Poland and other former socialist countries joined it. Hence, he said that Russia has nowhere to retreat further and gave up the diplomatic tone: «You have to give a guarantee, not me. Now!» concluding his response in quite an emotional manner «Walk away, you with your concerns! We will do whatever we consider as appropriate.»
By Vitalii Holich
Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.