Putin’s State of the Nation Speech

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his state of the nation speech today under a cloud of international tensions, domestic unrest, and a growing suspicion among many in the West that it will only be a matter of time before he moves on Ukraine. Diplomats, defense and geopolitical analysists across the world tuned in for the speech in the hopes of discovering a hint about the Russian leader’s plans and intentions. Putin left a trail of breadcrumbs, although probably not in the amount of detail that most were expecting. He spoke in broad terms, as is generally the case with this type of speech. However, his words and tone left ample leeway for audiences to read between the lines, so to speak.

Putin warned the West explicitly not to cross Russia’s ‘red lines,’ promising a swift and strong response to any provocations and assuring the responsible nation-state would regret it. He went on to explain that Russia will determine where the red lines lay, comparing Russia’s present situation to a tiger surrounded by hyenas. Blunt, powerful words, even for a Russian leader. The image he portrayed will resonate well with nationalists, who have been watching NATO encroachment moving closer to Russian borders for decades now. Putin went on to say that Russia wants good relations with all nations, but constant attempts by the West to single out Russia for punishment have undermined the effort. This was certainly a swipe at the United States and the Biden administration’s recent application of sanctions on a select number of Russian officials and businessmen, as well as the Czech Republic’s accusations of Russian involvement in a 2014 ammunition depot explosion in that nation.

Belarus was a topic brought up in the speech. Putin tied the application of ‘unjust’ sanctions to a 17 April coup attempt there. On that date, Belarussian authorities claim to have stopped a US-backed plot to assassinate Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko and kidnap his children. Mind you, this story has received little news coverage in the West, but it could prove to be significant down the line with regards to the Belarussian role in Russia’s plans for Ukraine and beyond.

Friday 2 March, 2018 Update: Putin’s Bluster

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Russian President Vladimir Putin certainly captured the world’s attention with his state-of-the-nation address on Thursday. The speech centered on the unveiling of a supposedly new generation of Russian nuclear weapons designed to be invulnerable to all US defenses. Some of the weapons that Putin described seemed to spring straight from the script of a Dr Strangelove sequel. An ICBM with more range, and capable of carrying more warheads than any before it, a stealthy long-range cruise missile, and a high speed, extended-range torpedo ideal for use against port facilities and US carrier groups. Along with the unveiling of new weapons, Putin issued a stark warning that Russia would use these weapons, as well as its older nuclear weapons against Europe and the United States in response to an attack on Russia.

Putin’s saber-rattling was well received domestically, which makes sense considering the speech was geared towards the domestic audience. This is, after all, an election year for Putin, and even though he is expected to easily win another term, keeping his base satisfied is important. Internationally, the speech raised eyebrows, and triggered concern about an impending nuclear arms race. The US government reactions were somewhat blasé. For many in Washington, Putin’s talk of a fielding a new generation of nuclear weapons was nothing new, and lacked substance. This is not the first instance of Putin rattling his saber directly at the United States, and it likely will not be the last.

For Russia, Putin’s bluster came at just the right time. February was difficult month on the international front. Russian combat losses spiked in Syria as the conflict there teeters on the brink of expanding and escalating. The bloody stalemate continues in eastern Ukraine, and the first shipments of US weapons are expected to begin arriving in Ukraine within days. Putin’s speech will do much to perk up Russian citizens and help them forget that their country’s two major foreign adventures appear fated to drag on with no end in sight for quite some time yet.