Putin’s address redux

I think I should add two points to the original post after a chat at Foreign Dispatches.

— “Geopolitical” is a staple of Russian political discourse, hence it has nearly lost meaning and come to denote something big and important, of global dimensions perhaps. When the sky falls down on you, it’s a pain of global dimensions, too.

— Putin was speaking specifically to a Russian audience and as a Russian — the Russian, so to say. Therefore, add “to us Russians” to every claim he makes. How else should it be? Of course the fall of the USSR was no disaster to the Poles, but why should the Russian president talk about anything but the Russian perspective in a speech to the Russian people? I thought it should be obvious.

Conclusion — my reading is this: “The day the USSR was no more the sky came down upon our heads — us Russians, and many other former Soviets.”

As for me, I cheered, being young and all that. But it was no cause for celebration.

UPDATE. Andy Young put it very nicely:

Oh well. If I were you, I’d forget all about this speech. I’m sure Putin already has. Pay attention to what he actually does over the next 12 months, and draw your conclusions based on his actions, not his words.

Agreed 100%.


  1. I agree entirely with you when you say Putin is talking to a Russian audience and his comments should be interpreted as such.

    But, I think when looking at the Western reaction to his speech, it’s also important to consider that for us, the fall of the Soviet Union was a great victory. In our mythos, the victory wasn’t just ours, it was a victory for the Soviet people too, in that it rescued them from a terrible life. From that perspective, it is very difficult to comprehend that the Russian people could see the fall of the Soviet Union as a negative event.

    I’m English, and the best comparison I can give is the end of the British Empire. Most people in the US believe it was wonderful news that the Empire fell, as do many of the subjects of the Empire who are no longer under our yoke. But in England itself, there is still a lingering sense of loss. While most English people when pressed will accept that the end of Empire was a major geopolitical success (because rationally they know it really was), if they were alive at the time of Empire, they can’t help but hark back to the glory days of Empire, when they believed their country was the greatest in the world.

  2. It’s a difficult subject, which is why it took me so long to reply. Geoffrey Hosking wrote that while Britain had an empire, Russia was an empire. Hence the double meaning of the Union’s breakup. The first dimension is the fall of Communism (a mild, corrupt and watered-down version by the 1980s) and with it, of a social order that was in some ways preferable to that which succeeded it. The second is the falling apart of a multiethnic country that many, not only Russians, considered their one and only motherland. A lot of people hoped that a non-communist Union would be viable, excluding the Baltics but including Ukraine and Kazakhstan and perhaps Central Asia.

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