The director of the "Eastern Partnership" program of the European Union and Russia at the Finnish Institute of International Relations,

Arkady Moshes,

answers these questions of

Yuriy Drakakhrust

.

- What is your general impression of this year's annual message of Putin?

Arkady Moshes

- This is his pre-election program for the next 6 years.

The date 2030 was mentioned in the message so often that it seemed that in 2030 we will hear the same speech, scheduled for another 6 years.

It looked like a speech at a meeting of a party-economic asset.

I recalled the speech of the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU,

Konstantin Chernenko,

at the plenum of the Central Committee in 1984, dedicated to land reclamation.

Of course, Putin's speech was more modern, he wanted to show that no detail was left out of his attention.

But the similarity was observed.

- I drew attention to the generally "non-mobilizing" tone of the message.

There were almost no calls for "Everything for the front", for total war, "get up, Russian people!".

The word "sanctions" was never used in the speech.

They are supposedly not there.

- Analysts have been talking about this dilemma of the Russian government for a long time.

On the one hand, it is impossible to talk about the war, about the "special military operation" as something small, frightening.

Putin spoke about the front, about heroes, about the need to weave camouflage nets for all the people.

But, on the other hand, he did not want people to perceive the war as an existential challenge for Russia.

With the exception of the first 10 minutes and the last two minutes, where it was said that "all Russia's plans depend on our soldiers at the front", this was a speech in which there is no war.

There was talk of spending on various social and economic programs, an attraction of unheard-of generosity was demonstrated.

Undoubtedly, such a speech cannot mobilize anyone.

Under her influence, people will think about what they can get from the next version of maternity capital and family mortgage.

It was a peacetime speech, and its parts don't really relate to each other.

- One of the theses of the message is the vitality and stability of the Russian economy.

In one ranking, Russia is in the top five in the world, in another - in the top ten, everything is flourishing in it.

In 2028, the BRICS economy will account for 37% of world GDP, and the economy of the Western "7" will account for only 28% of world GDP.

How true is this picture to reality?

- What will happen in 2028 is difficult to predict, we do not know how the war in Ukraine will develop.

We also do not know what decisions the West will make regarding the sanctions regime.

Putin is very fond of certain formulas, such as purchasing power parity (PPP).

Many economists do not take this indicator seriously.

No one in Russia is talking about the fact that it should catch up and overtake Portugal.

This analysis

of Putin

is a mixture of predictions and wishes.

We have heard such speeches both before Putin and with him.

But forecasts are an uncertain thing.

And as for reality, today Putin also admitted that there are a large number of people living below the poverty line in Russia.

It is more pleasant to talk about the fact that Russia is among the leaders according to the PPZ.

And he does not want to talk about where the line of a decent pension should pass.

At the end of the speech, he made comparisons with the 90s.

He would have compared the indicators with 1913.

- In the foreign policy part of the message, the statement about the prospect of the entry of troops of Western states into Ukraine was perhaps the loudest.

In response, Putin actually threatened to use nuclear weapons.

The other day, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke about the possibility of sending Western troops to Ukraine.

Is this really such a painful issue for the Kremlin?

- There is nothing new in this.

In a way, Putin was lucky that

Macron

said what he said the day before.

If Macron had not said this, they would have found another reason to mention the presence of nuclear weapons in Russia.

But there is a certain anxiety in these words of Putin.

He described what modern weapons Russia has.

However, the mention of nuclear weapons is a bit of uncertainty.

At the same time, it is impossible to talk seriously about the prospect that soldiers from NATO countries will appear at the front in Ukraine, who will fight with Russia.

Macron should have consulted with his allies and found out what the reaction to his proposal would be.

He did a great service to Russian propaganda with his statement.

We can already see that French diplomacy is beginning to twist itself over the statement of the French president.

- Another plot of the message is a statement about the impracticality of dialogue with the USA on strategic stability.

According to Putin, the USA seeks to defeat Russia, so what negotiations can be conducted?

But in the 60s and 70s of the 20th century, the USSR supported communist North Vietnam, including massive supplies of weapons.

And these Soviet weapons killed American soldiers there.

However, this did not prevent negotiations on strategic stability.

- Negotiations on strategic stability are, indeed, a completely different story, they are about nuclear weapons.

But if we compare, the topic of Vietnam in the 60s was very painful for the USA, but it was not perceived as a matter of strategic survival of America.

For Putin and for many other Russians, the war in Ukraine has turned into a war for survival.

We have already said that in the context of this message, the war in Ukraine is allegedly not perceived that way.

But for modern Russia, the war in Ukraine is more important than the war in Vietnam was for America at one time.

America could afford to lose Vietnam and remain a world leader.

Russia, in case of defeat in Ukraine, will be perceived completely differently.

So today's statements by Putin regarding the negotiations on strategic stability are also a manifestation of insecurity.

- I drew attention to the words from Putin's message: "We will continue special mortgage programs for the Far East, the Arctic, Donbass and Novorossiya."

There was a lot of talk about Novorossiysk in Russia in 2014-2015, there was even a project to create a union of the eastern regions of Ukraine from Kharkiv to Odessa under the auspices of Russia under this name.

Then the conversations about Navorossiia subsided or stopped.

Now Putin is using the term again.

Does this indicate that the Kremlin's territorial appetites are greater than what it has already annexed?

- I think that first of all there was a conversation about the Kherson region.

And it is definitely not Donbass, but these newly annexed territories must be called something.

But I also paid attention to Putin's use of this term.

He recently appeared in the writings of Dmitry Medvedev.

I think that the briefings from the front, as well as the briefings from the diplomatic fronts, especially from Washington, raised the morale of Russian strategists.

I do not rule out that according to their plans, after the end of the spring roadlessness, the Russian army will go west.

And control over "Navorossiya" will be included in Russia's operative plans.

- It is also interesting what Putin did not talk about in the message.

Belarus was mentioned only once.

Putin said about the construction of transport highways, including "to Minsk, to our brotherly Belarus."

No more words about Belarus or other CSTO countries.

The day before, a meeting of deputies of all levels took place in separatist Transnistria, which called on Russia to protect the region from pressure from Moldova.

But Putin did not mention this either.

Why?

- Putin was looking for winning topics in this speech.

The attraction of unheard of generosity is profitable.

Another thing is that if he promises 5 thousand rubles for class leadership, and for participation in the war a person who may have joined it from prison receives 200 thousand, it is unlikely to inspire the teacher who was promised 5 thousand rubles.

He has nothing to be proud of in foreign policy, including in the post-Soviet space.

After all, observers will recall the actual withdrawal of Armenia from the CSTO, and the alliance between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which was caused by the complication of Astana's relations with Moscow.

Belarus is a special case.

I believe that Putin has built the scheme of relations with Lukashenka's Belarus that is optimal for him and does not want to change it.

The essence of the scheme is direct and indirect control over Belarus with Lukashenka at its head.

In the post-Soviet space, Putin has nothing to brag about or even to promise.

That is why BRICS comes to mind.

Once upon a time, Montenegrins had a saying: there are 200 million of us with the Russians, and without them - a semi-truck. Now Russia plays a similar role.

BRICS is an influential organization.

But Russia is 2% of world GDP.

And CSTO partners are hundredths of a percent that are of no interest to anyone.

- Some feared that the appeal of the Transnistrian deputies would repeat the Crimean or Donbas scheme.

And the answer to the appeal will be the accession of Transnistria to the Russian Federation.

But even these deputies did not ask for it.

Nevertheless, cannot Putin suddenly announce the annexation of Transnistria during his election campaign?

- Indeed, many people in the West are now concerned about such a scenario.

But there are differences from the Crimean or Donbas situations.

First, there is no common border with Russia.

From the east of Ukraine it is very far to go, from the south - what happened with the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation excludes the possibility of an amphibious operation.

The Russian contingent in Transnistria itself is small, and mostly local people serve there.

Well, the situation there is actually different than, say, in Donbass.

There are 200,000 Russian citizens in Transnistria, but 300,000 Moldovans and 100,000 Ukrainians.

Many of them have several passports, including the Romanian one, which allows them to travel around Europe.

A significant part of Transnistria's exports goes to the EU, and through Moldova with Moldovan customs clearance.

So it's definitely not Donbass.

Russia can provide some economic assistance to Transnistria.

But not more than that.

After all, if the conversation turns to accession, then Chisinau will turn to Ukraine for military assistance, and the Ukrainian army will be in Transnistria before the Russians warm up the engines of their planes.

- You said that Putin is satisfied with the status quo regarding Belarus.

And Lukashenka said last Sunday at the polling station that Belarus and Russia as sovereign states are stronger than if they were united.

But is it possible that before the elections, Putin will come up with some initiative regarding Belarus?

Let's say about the possibility of recruiting Belarusians into the Russian army, creating a military base or something like that.

- No, I don't expect that.

The opportunity for Belarusians to serve in the Russian army may open, but on an individual basis.

It's not like Putin will tell Lukashenka - send me 5,000 of my own, and we will register them as Russian contractors.

An important factor here is that Belarusians do not want to fight, and everyone knows that.

Practical control over the territory of Belarus is important to the Russians.

And they already have it: the Russian army leaves Belarus and returns to it whenever it wants.

— Since October 2022, shelling of Ukraine from Belarusian territory has stopped.

Can they recover?

- In war, what is unexpected is effective.

A ground attack from the territory of Belarus in February 2022 was not expected.

Now there will be no surprise factor, Ukraine is prepared for this, and the consequences will be painful for both Lukashenka and Putin.

The task of capturing Kiev is obviously not now, which means that there is no need for a strike from the territory of Belarus.

The territory of Belarus is actually used for war.

According to Ukrainian sources, Russian planes regularly patrol the skies of Belarus.

This is both reconnaissance and a test of Ukrainian air defense systems.

And Ukraine announces an air alert in such cases.

In any case, this increases the level of anxiety for Ukraine.

  • Yuri Drakakhrust

    Journalist of Radio Svaboda


    drakakhrusty@rferl.org

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