On March 17, shortly after signing an agreement to add the Crimean Peninsula to the Russian Federation, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered an address to members of the Duma, Federal Council, other leading government officials and influential residents of Crimea. Harvard student Kimberly St Julian describes the speech as steeped in history (as Putin understands it), cultural mysticism and a large dose of cynicism towards the West.
Vladimir Putin’s speech on the annexation of Crimea this week focused on three themes: the historical and cultural connections between Russia, Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, Russia’s well-voiced complaints about the new government in Ukraine, and the apparent hypocrisy of the West when dealing with Crimea and Ukraine.
In particular, Putin used the tropes of fascism, Bandera, and nationalism that are now common in the Russian media coverage on Crimea and Ukraine, but switched things up with references to liberal political ideas including territorial integrity and the will of the people. He also made sure to weave in ideas of the tripartite Rus’ made from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. This metaphor included a comment on the baptism of Prince Vladimir in Khersones (on the outskirts of Sevastopol) uniting the three peoples together in Orthodoxy.
Two of the more interesting and relevant sections of the speech included Putin’s use of the eastern expansion of NATO as an example of a Western lie and decision made behind Russia’s back. He also brushed off the threats of sanctions stating that “today, we are being threatened with sanctions, but we already experience many limitations, ones that are quite significant for us, our economy and our nation”.
He followed up this commentary with a biting analysis of the popular American policy of containment, an approach to Russia/the Soviet Union in use since the 1940s. Putin voiced his opinion on this subject clearly, saying “They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner because we have an independent position…But there is a limit to everything”. These statements are perhaps the most important to an understanding of how Putin sees his situation vis-à-vis America and Western Europe.
Putin reiterated the legal and popular nature of the referendum in Crimea of March 16 that resulted in the peninsula “deciding” to join the Russian Federation. He called attention to Kosovo’s declaration of independence to show how the Crimean situation was handled to the letter according to Article 2, Chapter 1 of the United Nations Charter. He went so far as to quote a US statement from 2009 on the Kosovo situation to draw attention to the hypocrisy in America’s decision to recognize Kosovo, but not Crimea. He also made rhetorically charged pleas to the people of America, Europe (Germany in particular), and Ukraine to understand the Russian stance on Crimea and the need for reunification.
Putin also hammered home the fact that America and Western European countries violate international law and seem to rewrite rules when it suits them, especially during the 2000s. “However, what do we hear from our colleagues in Western Europe and North America? They say we are violating norms of international law. Firstly, it’s a good thing that they at least remember that there exists such a thing as international law-better late than never”. Putin’s address included some very pointed commentary on America’s behavior in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya to drive home his point on Western hypocrisy in its behavior towards Crimea’s referendum.
In the last minutes of the speech, Putin strengthened his position on Ukraine and his perception of the West’s reaction to Crimea: “We understand what is happening; we understand that these actions were aimed against Ukraine and Russia and against Eurasian integration…we want to strengthen our level of trust and our relations to be equal, open and fair. But we saw no reciprocal steps”. He also mentioned his goal of building good relations with the West yet he accused it of using sanctions to provoke internal discontent in Russia.
In his concluding remarks, Putin emphasized that the majority of the populations in Crimea and Russia are looking forward to reunification and that this decision is based on the will of the people. At least to President Putin, the future of Crimea is clear.
Official Transcripts of Putin’s Speech can be found below: