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An article I published close to five years ago, “Putin to Western elites: Play-time is over”, turned out to be the most popular thing I’ve written so far, having garnered over 200,000 reads over the intervening years. In it I wrote about Putin’s speech at the 2014 Valdai Club conference. In that speech he defined the new rules by which Russia conducts its foreign policy: out in the open, in full public view, as a sovereign nation among other sovereign nations, asserting its national interests and demanding to be treated as an equal. Yet again, Western elites failed to listen to him.
Instead of mutually beneficial cooperation they continued to speak the language of empty accusations and counterproductive yet toothless sanctions. And so, in yesterday’s address to Russia’s National Assembly Putin sounded note of complete and utter disdain and contempt for his “Western partners,” as he has usually called them. This time he called them “swine.”
The president’s annual address to the National Assembly is a rather big deal. Russia’s National Assembly is quite unlike that of, say, Venezuela, which really just consists of some obscure nonentity named Juan recording Youtube videos in his apartment. In Russia, the gathering is a who’s-who of Russian politics, including cabinet ministers, Kremlin staffers, the parliament (State Duma), regional governors, business leaders and political experts, along with a huge crowd of journalists. One thing that stood out at this year’s address was the very high level of tension in the hall: the atmosphere seemed charged with electricity.
It quickly became obvious why the upper echelon of Russia’s state bureaucracy was nervous: Putin’s speech was part marching orders part harangue. His plans for the next couple of years are extremely ambitious, as he himself admitted. The plank is set very high, he said, and those who are not up to the challenge have no business going near it. Very hard work lies ahead for almost everyone who was gathered in that hall, and those of them who fail at their tasks are unlikely to be in attendance the next time around because their careers will have ended in disgrace.
The address contained almost no bad news and quite a lot of very good news. Russia’s financial reserves are more than sufficient to cover its entire external debt, both public and private. Non-energy-resource exports are booming to such an extent that Russia no longer needs oil and gas exports to maintain a positive balance of trade. It has become largely immune to Western sanctions. Eurasian integration projects are going extremely well. Russian government’s investments in industry are paying dividends.
The government has amassed vast amounts of capital which it will now spend on domestic programs designed to benefit the people, to help Russians live longer, healthier lives and have more children. “More children—lower taxes” was one of the catchier slogans. This was what most of the address was about: eradication of remaining poverty; low, subsidized mortgage rates for families with two or more children; pensions indexed to inflation above and beyond the official minimal income levels (corrected and paid out retroactively); high-speed internet for each and every school; universal access to health care through a network of rural clinics; several new world-class oncology clinics; support for tech start-ups; a “social contract” program that helps people start small businesses; another program called “ticket to the future” that allows sixth-graders to choose a career path that includes directed study programs, mentorships and apprenticeships; lots of new infrastructure projects such as the soon-to-be-opened Autobahn between Moscow and St. Petersburg, revamped trash collection and recycling and major air pollution reductions in a dozen major cities; the list goes on and on. No opposition to these proposals worth mentioning was voiced in any of the commentary that followed on news programs and talk shows; after all, who could possibly be against spending amassed capital on projects that help the population?
Perhaps the most ambitious goal set by Putin was to redo the entire system of Russia’s government regulations, both federal and regional, in every sphere of public life and commerce. Over the next two years every bit of regulation will be examined in order to determine whether it is necessary and whether it responds to contemporary needs and if it isn’t or doesn’t it will be eliminated. This will significantly ease the burden of regulatory compliance, lowering the cost of doing business. Another goal was to continue growing the already booming agricultural export sector. Last year Russia achieved self-sufficiency in wheat seed stock, but the overall goal is to achieve complete self-sufficiency in food and to become the world’s provider of ecologically clean foodstuffs. (As Putin pointed out, Russia remains the only major agricultural producer in the world that hasn’t been contaminated by American-made GMO poisons.) Yet another goal is to further grow Russia’s tourism industry, which is already booming, by introducing electronic tourist visas that will be much easier to obtain.
Last year’s addressed surprised the world with its second part, in which Putin unveiled a whole set of new Russian weapons systems that effectively negate every last bit of US military superiority. This year, he added just one new system: a supersonic cruise missile called “Zirkon” with a 1000 km range that flies at Mach 9. But he also provided a progress report on all the others: everything is going according to plan; some new armaments have already been delivered, others are going into mass production, the rest are being tested. He spoke in favor of normalized relations with the EU, but accused the US of “hostility,” adding that Russia does not threaten anyone and is not interested in confrontation.
Putin’s sharpest words were reserved for the US decision to abandon the IMF treaty. He said that the US acted in bad faith, accusing Russia of violating the treaty while they themselves violated it, specifically articles 5 and 6, by deploying dual-use launch systems in Romania and Poland which can be used for both air defense and for offensive nuclear weapons which the treaty specifically prohibits. Nuclear-tipped Tomahawk cruise missiles, which the US could deploy in Poland and Romania, would of course pose a risk, but would not provide the US with anything like a first-strike advantage, since these cruise missiles are obsolete to the point where even Syria’s Soviet-era air defenses were able to shoot down most of the ones the US lobbed at them as punishment for the fake chemical weapons attack in Douma.
Speaking of the American dream of a global air defense system, Putin called on the US to “abandon these illusions.” The Americans can think whatever they want, he said, but the question is, “can they do math?” This needs unfolding.
First, the Americans can think whatever they want because… they are Americans. Russians do not allow themselves the luxury of thinking complete and utter nonsense. Those who are not grounded in fact and logic tend to get the Russian term “likbez” thrown in their faces rather promptly. It literally decodes as “liquidation of illiteracy” and is generally used to shut down ignoramuses. But in the US shocking displays of ignorance are quite acceptable. For an example, you need to look no further than the astonishingly idiotic “Green New Deal” being touted by the freshman congresstwit (how’s that for a gender-neutral appellation?) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If she were Russian she’d have been laughed right out of town by now.
“But can they do math?” Apparently not! There is another Russian term—“matchast”—which literally decodes as “material part” but stands for the understanding that can only be achieved through the knowledge of mathematics, the hard sciences and engineering. In Russia, ignoramuses like Ocasio-Cortez, who think that transportation needs can be provided by electric vehicles powered by wind and solar, get shut down by being told to go and study “matchast” while in the US they are allowed to run wild in the halls of congress. In this case, if Americans could “do math,” they would quickly figure out that there is no conceivable defensive system that would be effective against the new Russian weapons, that there are no conceivable offensive weapons that would prevent Russia from launching an unstoppable retaliatory strike, and that therefore the “new arms race” (which some Americans have been daft enough to announce) is effectively over and Russia has won. See above: Russia is not spending its money on weapons; it is spending it on helping its people. The US can squander arbitrary amounts of money on weapons but this won’t make an iota of difference: an attack on Russia will be the last thing it ever does.
Russia does not plan to be the first to violate the ABM treaty, but if the US deploys intermediate-range nuclear weapons against Russia, then Russia will respond in kind, by targeting not just the territories from which it is threatened but the locations where the decisions to threaten it are taken. Washington, Brussels and other NATO capitals would, clearly, be on that list. This shouldn’t be news; Russia has already announced that in the next war, should there be one, will not be fought on Russian soil. Russia plans to take the fight to the enemy immediately. Of course, there won’t be a war—provided the Americans are sane enough to realize that attacking Russia is functionally equivalent to blowing themselves up with nuclear weapons. Are they sane enough? That is the question that is holding the world hostage.
It is in speaking of them that Putin used the most withering word in his entire address. Speaking of Americans’ dishonesty and bad faith in accusing Russia of violating the ABM treaty while it was they themselves who were violating it, he added: “...and the American satellites oink along with them.” It is rather difficult to come up with an adequate translation for the Russian verb “подхрюкивать”; “oink along with” is as close as I am able to get. The mental image is of a chorus of little pigs accompanying a big swine. The implication is obvious: Putin thinks that the Americans are swine, and that their NATO satellites are swine too. Therefore, they shouldn’t expect Putin to scatter any pearls before them and, in any case, he’ll be too busy helping Russians live better lives to pay any attention to them.
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