Putin Shifts Focus of Patriotism
Published: May 14, 2014 (Issue # 1810)
A few years ago in an interview with Western journalists, President Vladimir Putin made a statement that was so strange people thought it was a joke. “It is my misfortune...[and] tragedy that I am alone. There just isn’t anyone else like me in the world. After Mahatma Gandhi died, there was nobody left to talk with.”
Actually, Putin chats with Syrian President Bashar Assad, the leaders in Iran and other people Gandhi would clearly never have spoken with. But there is a small bit of truth in what Putin said. The world really doesn’t listen to Putin. People only hear what they want to hear, and that is whatever doesn’t upset them. Back in 2005, Putin said that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Many people only remembered these words when it became clear that “fixing” the results of that catastrophe — at least in part — has become Russia’s top foreign policy strategy.
Buried in the usual official niceties of the two speeches Putin gave to commemorate Victory Day on May 9 in Moscow and Sevastopol were several important messages. Addressing the world, Putin asked everyone to respect “our legitimate interests, including the restoration of historical justice and the right to self-determination.”
But self-determination does not apply to ethnic groups within Russia, where “promoting separatism” was recently made a felony. And Russia’s “legitimate interests” include former Soviet republics, where Putin, in violation of international law, has been “restoring historical justice” as he sees fit.
It is interesting to compare Putin’s speech at the May 9 parade in Moscow with the speech he gave a year ago. Last year, he ended with a call “to overcome all difficulties and obstacles and pass on to our children a prosperous, free and strong Russia.” This year, “prosperous” and “free” were gone. In their place were calls to “place service to the fatherland above all” and to “defend the interests” of Russia.
The difference between this year’s “defending Russia’s interests” and last year’s “defending the homeland” is significant. The difference can be understood from the text of the law on veterans. Out of the list of 49 wars that the Soviet military fought in the 20th century, only in World War II did Soviet soldiers defend their country from invasion. All the rest of the wars took place on foreign territory. The list includes the suppression of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the war in Korea, military operations in Egypt during the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars. It also includes military operations in Vietnam beginning in January 1961, when U.S. President John F. Kennedy was still categorically opposed to sending U.S. troops into the conflict.
Pages: