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Putin Shifts Focus of Patriotism

Published: May 14, 2014 (Issue # 1810)




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Afew years ago inan interview with Western journalists, President Vladimir Putin made astatementthat was so strange people thought it was ajoke. It is my misfortune...[and] tragedy that I am alone. There just isnt anyone else like me inthe world. After Mahatma Gandhi died, there was nobody left totalk with.

Actually, Putin chats with Syrian President Bashar Assad, theleaders inIran andother people Gandhi would clearly never have spoken with. But there is asmall bit oftruth inwhat Putin said. Theworld really doesnt listen toPutin. People only hear what they want tohear, andthat is whatever doesnt upset them. Back in2005, Putin said that thedissolution ofthe Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe ofthe 20th century. Many people only remembered these words when it became clear that fixing theresults ofthat catastrophe atleast inpart has become Russias top foreign policy strategy.

Buried inthe usual official niceties ofthe two speeches Putin gave tocommemorate Victory Day onMay 9 inMoscowandSevastopolwere several important messages. Addressing theworld, Putin asked everyone torespect our legitimate interests, including therestoration ofhistorical justice andthe right toself-determination.

But self-determination does not apply toethnic groups within Russia, where promoting separatism was recently made afelony. AndRussias legitimate interests include former Soviet republics, where Putin, inviolation ofinternational law, has been restoring historical justice as he sees fit.

It is interesting tocompare Putins speech atthe May 9 parade inMoscow with thespeechhe gave ayear ago. Last year, he ended with acall to overcome all difficulties andobstacles andpass onto our children aprosperous, free andstrong Russia. This year, prosperous andfree were gone. Intheir place were calls toplace service tothe fatherland above all andto defend theinterests ofRussia.

Thedifference between this years defending Russias interests andlast years defending thehomeland is significant. Thedifference can be understood fromthe text ofthe law onveterans. Out ofthe list of49 wars that theSoviet military fought inthe 20th century, only inWorld War II did Soviet soldiers defend their country frominvasion. All therest ofthe wars took place onforeign territory. Thelist includes thesuppression ofthe Hungarian uprising of1956, thewar inKorea, military operations inEgypt during theSix-Day andYom Kippur Wars. It also includes military operations inVietnam beginning inJanuary 1961, when U.S. President John F. Kennedy was still categorically opposed tosending U.S. troops intothe conflict.

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