It’s a grim reality from Soviet times that Vladimir Putin continues to embody: Individual horrors and monumental changes of history happen without fanfare.
All the worst news from the Kremlin happens on some faceless Tuesday or Thursday. It happens in a room you will never see.
And so it was never going to be this Monday, as much of the Western media was predicting. It was never going to be in Red Square. That’s just not the way the Kremlin works.
The world had been told that May 9, Russia’s annual Victory Day celebration, was the perfect time for Vladimir Putin to make some sort of loud, momentous statement that would change the course of the war in Ukraine. His address might include an official declaration of war, call on Russians for a national mobilization, state his readiness to use nuclear weapons — or even just announce that he’d won the war.
Of course, none of this happened. Putin kept to the script: He congratulated the Russians on their battlefield victories, promised to fight to the last for the freedom of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, honored the fallen soldiers and greeted those who’ve returned from the frontlines.
Cut from Soviet cloth
Putin also continued to make his case that it was the United States and NATO that had provoked the war, and that Ukraine was somehow ruled by “neo-Nazis.” It was exactly what the world has been hearing for months, if not years, from the Russian president.
With May 9 gone, some may choose to believe that the dangerous moment has passed and that the war will continue on its course toward what increasingly looks like a bloody quagmire. No more surprises. No new borders crossed, or new weapons used.
Putin is cut from the same cloth as the Soviet leaders of the darkest years.
There is no greater delusion than this.
We must remember that Putin is cut from the same cloth as the Soviet leaders of the darkest and cruelest years. In the nearly 23 years of his rule, there has never been a single occasion when an important statement was uttered in a public space, in front of thousands of citizens and military personnel.
All the most terrible things he and his Soviet predecessors ever said or did happened as if they were just another bureaucratic procedure to tick off in a normal, daily routine. A new law rubber-stamped by the Parliament he controls, a line tucked into a speech that the media barely noticed.
Victory Parade on Moscow's Red Square
In 2005, during a mundane speech in the Duma, Russia’s parliament, Putin said that the collapse of the USSR was a “tragedy.”
In 2007, during a speech in Munich, quite unexpectedly, he lashed out at the U.S. for seeking a “unipolarity” of the world, and established Russia's place in confronting NATO.
Lies were the talking points that brought the war.
In 2014, during an interview on a Russian TV channel, he lectured Russian historians that Crimea and the east of Ukraine are Novorossiya and that Russia and Kyiv Rus' are one and the same.
When announcing the war on February 23, Putin called it a “special military operation” in Donbas. This is another peculiarity of the nomenklatura of the KGB: to give the most incomprehensible names to obvious things. In the Russian media, before full censorship began in March, jokes were circulating about using phrases like "clap and rip" instead of an explosion, or “negative surfacing” instead of drowning.
What we believe
The blatant lies that have long been a feature of the Putin regime were the talking points that brought the war. Today Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declares that these are simply military exercises on the border with Ukraine, and that any invasion is out of the question; tomorrow, the invasion is approved.
Part of it also falls on the West’s choice to believe its own narrative, rather than look at what Putin is actually saying — even if he doesn’t say it in Red Square. Putin's most momentous statements were never taken seriously, in part because they weren’t presented in a way the West is used to. He published an article a year ago that stated quite clearly that he didn't believe Ukraine was or ever had been a nation of its own; that it was part of Russia and should return to the fold of Russia. It all seemed illogical and meaningless — and anyway was written in an article rather than pronounced out loud to a crowd of people.
That Putin said nothing about nuclear weapons or mobilization while standing on Red Square on May 9 means nothing. This is not the place nor the time.
That Putin said nothing about expanding the war or moving troops toward another country’s border means nothing. This is not the place nor the time.
Unpredictability, deceitfulness, and perfidy have become the cornerstones of Putin's foreign policy, just like in Soviet times.
Of all the information flowing, above and below the surface, it is worth paying special attention to the change in rhetoric about World War II that has taken place under Putin. In Soviet times the victory parade was held only four times, and its slogan was "Peace. Labor. May." Now it's an annual festival, where the nuclear arsenal is trotted out for the world to see — and the slogan? "We can do it again.”
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