At exactly 00:00 on Monday night, a video message from Vladimir Putin on the occasion of the State Flag Day appeared on the Kremlin’s official website. Since Flag Day has been on the official calendar of holidays since 1994, this can be considered an ordinary and purely ceremonial event. But let’s rewind the tape a year ago. August 22, 2021 – no video message from VVP. 2020 is not. 2019 is also not. The version about the purely ceremonial nature of the presidential speech can be safely discarded.
In this speech, one should look for important substantive political points and signals. And these searches should not take up much space. Here is the main internal political innovation: “From the first of September this year, the school week in all schools of the country will begin with a solemn flag-raising ceremony and the singing of the anthem.”
And here are the phrases that “flicker red warning lights” in the field of foreign policy: “Russia is a powerful, independent world power. We are firm in pursuing in the international arena only those policies that meet the fundamental interests of the Fatherland.
Once again, the temptation is great to dismiss this as Putin’s usual political rhetoric. Didn’t GDP constantly repeat something similar during all the years of his reign? Yes, I did. But 2022 bears little resemblance to the “normal years” of Putin’s rule. And in the context of what is happening around now, the president’s words from “political” into generally understandable language can be translated something like this: yes, I know that you in the West will criticize us, but we will do what we think is necessary, and we don’t give a damn about your criticism from a high bell tower. Or, as Putin himself stated in 2014: “Maybe the bull is not allowed. But I want to tell you that the bear will not ask anyone for permission.”
What exactly is the Russian bear going to do now? As expected, the video message from the owner of the Kremlin does not answer this question. But the presidential address is compatible with the following statement by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in an interview with Izvestia: “The destructive course of the NATO countries to ignore our “red lines” and draw into confrontation with Russia in Ukraine, balancing on the brink of a direct armed conflict, is in the highest degree risky.
It is obvious that this is fraught with further escalation, up to a military clash of nuclear powers with dire consequences. This needs to be prevented.”
The notorious “red lines” of the Kremlin have already become the subject of jokes in certain Russian (and not only Russian) circles. Threats to start inflicting “attacks on decision-making centers” – too.
But let’s think and remember “for a long time.” When did it happen that Putin did not fulfill his promises and threats? In my memory, never. Another thing is that these promises are not fulfilled immediately, but after a certain period of time.
Here is a typical example of Putin’s style from the book “My Dissenting Opinion” published four years ago by the famous Russian journalist (and current foreign agent status) Alexei Venediktov: “It was 2007, August, the meeting of the chief editors with the president. Tanya Lysova from Vedomosti says: “Well, Vladimir Vladimirovich, your government is not doing anything …”
Putin answers her (and I, an idiot, missed it at that moment): “Why, there are different people in the government, different bodies. Some work less efficiently, some more. For example, our financial intelligence is working very efficiently, although you don’t know this person … ”And I knew this person … Viktor Alekseevich Zubkov, his name is …
September: boom, government changes. Zubkov is appointed prime minister. At the next meeting with Putin, I ask: “Vladimir Vladimirovich, we met a month ago, we asked you about the government, why didn’t you say?” And he says: “I said. You didn’t understand it!”
Perhaps, professional deformation speaks in me, but here’s what I’m thinking about now: the phrase “I said. You didn’t understand that” all Russian (as well as near-Russian and anti-Russian) political analysts should be “cast in granite” and hung over their desks.
Of course, this will not always help us decipher exactly what Putin is warning us about. But it will teach us (and more importantly, not us) to take his warnings seriously.
Right now, I feel like this is one of those moments. Guided by his understanding of the “fundamental interests of the Fatherland”, Putin is ready to take some drastic and decisive (even by the standards of 2022) steps. And I don’t think it’s long to wait. Before October 1st, a lot of things will definitely happen.