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Putin's Interesting Choice of Words at Friday's Security Council Meeting

Does a change in Putin's language signify a change in his global strategy?

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

When Vladimir Putin spoke to a meeting of Russia’s Security Council on Friday he used a phrase which should have immediately caught the attention of anyone who has kept a close eye on the deteriorating relations between Russia and the West.

Referring to the sanctions imposed on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, Putin said:

“We cannot expect a change in the hostile policies of some of our geopolitical opponents in the immediate future."

Geopolitical opponents.

A Google search for that exact phrase along with Putin’s name indicates that this is the first time he has used it publicly in such a context, at least in the last year, which is the timeframe the search covered.

Why does it matter? Well, maybe it doesn’t.

But however you look at it, “geopolitical opponents” is certainly quite a departure from the usual “our Western partners” — the stock phrase Putin has used most often to refer to the US and EU, regardless of how strained relations are. 

This may be the first time Putin has framed the stand-off between Russia and the West in such stark terms. It is also worth noting, however, that the usual phrase "our Western partners" sometimes takes on a bit of a perhaps deliberately ironic tone when he uses it.

As for "geopolitical opponents" ...maybe it was simply a turn of phrase not meant to indicate any particular change in mindset. Or maybe it was a deliberate comment, intended to be picked up on in order to indicate a change in strategic thinking. It’s impossible to know. But in politics, most things, from the color of a tie to the precise wording of a seemingly throwaway phrase, are deliberate. And in Putin's case, he's not someone who usually minces his words.

It’s also notable that the change in language came just days after the Pentagon unveiled its latest National Military Strategy, in which it listed Russia as a primary challenge, along with ISIS, North Korea and Iran.

To be clear, this should in no way be interpreted as an attempt to partake in that ever-popular pastime of Putin mind-reading. There’s already far too much of that going on, much of it closer to deliberate mis-interpretation than anything else.

We probably shouldn’t read too much into this yet — although some no doubt are already building nuclear shelters in their back yards. Deliberate or random, this probably does not yet signal any sort of tectonic shift in Putin’s geopolitical strategizing. 

But, if things do take a turn for the even-worse, we might later trace it back to the moment when “our Western partners” became “our geopolitical opponents”.

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