Putin’s February 21 Speech: Hot Takes – Putin Speaks for a Strong, Self-Sufficient Russia

Putin delivered his annual report to the Duma, Russia’s analogue to the US State of the Union, at noon Moscow time. It was delayed from its typical year end slot due to Putin having a raft of important international meetings then. Some Western commentators are oddly referring to the timing as three days before the anniversary of the Special Military Operation, when it is the anniversary of Putin’s speech on February 21, 2022, in which after a very long preamble, he proclaimed:

I consider it necessary to take a long overdue decision and to immediately recognise the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.

The US and Europe launched their economic war against Russia, with their shock and awe sanctions, on February 22, before Putin gave his February 24 speech announcing the launch of the SMO.

I normally prefer to work from Kremlin transcripts, since as Alexander Mercouris points out, Russian has subtleties than can be marred in a live or rushed translation, and the official English Kremlin version will most accurately reflect what Putin intended to convey. However, the EU’s Josep Borrell and NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg are holding a joint press conference NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on the heels of Putin’s speech, so they will be working from live translations. And recall also that Mercouris called out a raft of Western officials and the press hyperventilating over what they depicted as China presenting a peace plan later this week, when as Mercouris pointed out, all China said it was doing was presenting a position paper. So as usual, it will be important to watch for cherry picking or other misconstruing of what Putin said

* * *

Western hawks and combat junkies must have been enormously frustrated by Putin’s 1 hour 45 minute talk. Even though he discussed the war in Ukraine, and the impact of the war permeated his speech, he announced no new battlefield initiatives, and stuck to reprising old themes: how Russia did everything it could to prevent the war, how the West ignored neo-Nazi assassinations and reprisals, how Russia saw Kiev seeking heavy weapons, planes, and even nuclear weapons. Putin stressed that Western leaders have admitted to their treacherous behavior as if they are proud of cheating and lying, are accustomed to colonialism and hegemony, and played similar deceptive games in Libya and Syria. Russia recognized the next target after Donbass would be Crimea, as the West has acknowledged.

Putin’s one big move on the geopolitical front came at the end of his remarks, that Russia would suspend its participation in the START treaty. This should come as no surprise to Russia-watchers. Putin reiterated the Russian grievances: the US had been withdrawing from treaties and operating in a more openly hostile manner, while in the earlier phases of security agreements, the US and Russia had developed more trust. Specifically, the US was not allowing Russia to inspect US facilities yet was demanding Russia do so. Putin also pointed out that nuclear armed France and UK were outside these pacts, yet had their weapons aimed at Russia (the official translation may be clearer on this issue, but it was clear in context that Putin was pointing out they were acting as US operatives and just inspecting US facilities, even if that were on, now seemed inadequate).

The speech was mainly what I call “pothole Putin”. Putin seems to genuinely relish exercising power in comparatively mundane ways: launching new programs that improve material conditions or security and getting them completed. Perhaps this is a bureaucrat’s version of edifice complex. Perhaps it’s because more elements are under his control and with realistic time frames and competent officials, the odds of success are pretty good.

But the many many plans that Putin described each by each might not seem that significant, all together they represent a substantial commitment to invest in science, technology and education, transportation, housing, hospitals and schools, to manage the impact of the war, from integrated programs for veterans and families of the fallen to reconstruction in the liberated oblasts, to supporting the arts and culture. Putin was explicit that Russia, particularly its elite, had been seduced into thinking the West offered opportunity and security. Even though he noted that ordinary Russians shed no tears for oligarchs who’d had funds and property seized by the US and the EU, and if they decided to remain outside Russia, they’d be second class citizens, he said there would be no witch hunts. He encouraged them to come back to Russia and rebuild.

Mind you, as a non-Russian, I do not know to what extent the raft of initiatives are new, versus extensions and improvements of existing programs. For instance, Putin mentioned meeting target to have all major roads upgraded to national standards, IIRC by 2025; this was an affirmation that an existing target would be met. Ditto another on school building. But most sounded new or upgraded. And they might sound hand-wavey if you hadn’t read the public portions of Putin’s meetings with senior staff. This seems to be the level of detail he uses for directives: a high level sketch with some discussion of key points and problems to be solved.

Putin mentioned up the impact on the rest of the world: the paltry spending on poor countries versus the amounts deployed in Ukraine, a dig at Borrell for depicting the world outside the US/NATO garden as a jungle. But he was clearly speaking mainly to a home audience and stressed the intent of the West end Russia as a country. Despite foreign leaders now casually admitting to those designs, many of the usual media suspects have taken to depicting that part of his talk as the sole/major focus and yet another Russian conspiracy theory. For instance, from the BBC:

President Putin’s speech today was full of patriotic bluster.

The Kremlin leader once again portrayed his country as the victim, claiming it was the West, and not Russia, that had started the war in Ukraine. Russia, said the president, was just trying to stop it.

He reeled off a long list of historical grievances, before announcing that Russia would be suspending its participation in a key nuclear weapons agreement with America.

Ironically, once you get past the Daily Mail headline (US slams ‘absurdity’ of Putin’s national address as Vladimir says Russia will no longer participate in nuclear arms treaty and accuses the West of starting Ukraine war in bid to spark global conflict and achieve ‘limitless power’), the opening para is not too bad:

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday vowed to continue with Russia’s year-long war in Ukraine and accused the U.S.-led NATO alliance of fanning the flames of the conflict in the mistaken belief that it could defeat Moscow in a global confrontation. Addressing Russian lawmakers in his annual state-of-the-nation address (shown left), he claimed Russia had tried ‘everything possible’ to avoid conflict, before he launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24. He said he was addressing them ‘at a time which we all know is a difficult’ and vowed to ‘systematically’ continue with the offensive in Ukraine. His speech comes days before the war in Ukraine passes the one-year mark on Friday. Putin ordered his forces into the country on February 24, 2022 in what he calls a ‘special military operation’ instead of a war. Since then, tens of thousands of men have been killed, and Putin, 70, now says Russia is locked in an existential battle with the West. The address came the day after US president Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv to meet Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky

Putin paid considerable attention to the effects of the war and what the government would do in response. He had a very long section early on thanking the many who had contributed, from children writing to soldiers at the front and pensioners donating to war foundations, to military priests, doctors and medics, construction workers, factory employees working extra shifts, and even journalists going to the front. He also stressed how well Russia had adapted “on the fly” with business and construction lending up more (and more than in 2021 v.2020), banks in the black, unemployment at a record low at 3.7%, GDP down only by 2.1% and inflation expected to reach 4% by second quarter 2023. He particularly praised the productivity of the agricultural sector, with exports hitting a level that would have seemed inconceivable 10 to 15 years ago.

But Putin’s plans are ambitious, for wholesale reorientation and improvement. He said that Russia had fallen in with the Western short-term economic model which resulted in focusing unduly on commodities. Putin wants Russia to focus more on what economists would call value added, with aggressive investment across the board: the development of new logistics corridors and investment in Black Sea and polar shipping, in basic R&D, in vocational schools, in medicine and pharmaceuticals, electronics, nuclear, construction, and administration. He also called a wide range of new schemes, from stronger deposit insurance and pension protections, better access of small companies to capital markets, subsidized loans to encourage factory building, housing subsidies for young scientists, tax breaks for companies that use Russian IT and electronics, modernization of primary health care, free gas for kindergartens and hospitals….and more.

Putin stressed that Russia has everything it needs. His vision is not quite autarky; he expects Russia to trade. But he want to develop internal capabilities across the board so Russia can be more self reliant and self sufficient.

Putin implicitly presented the war as something Russians can manage with effort and some individual sacrifice, as opposed to have dominate their society. And so far, that is how it is shaking out.

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  1. John R Moffett

    “President Putin’s speech today was full of patriotic bluster.”

    As compared with Biden’s speech? Please. Patriotism is going to be the death of us all.

  2. Stephen

    So Putin makes a speech and sundry western potentates feel the need to give a press conference about it. Does sound very much that he and Russia have the strategic initiative.

    I wonder what they will do in response to Wang Yi’s forthcoming Position Paper. One suspects this will reiterate and detail his Munich Speech. If I understand the foreign ministry read out of the speech then that positions Minsk II as a starting point and emphasises the basic need to respect and safeguard (carefully chosen words I guess) sovereignty, as well as respect everyone’s security concerns. I do wonder how it will be hyped though as Chinese “meddling” or some other way of lambasting it while not dealing with the substance.

    Unlike Biden in his SOTU Speech, it also looks as though Putin managed to avoid personally insulting any other world leader. I wonder how the highly responsible and independent western corporate media would react if he asked whether anyone would want to be in Joe Biden’s position.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I may not have made it sufficiently clear: Putin mainly did not talk about the Collective West, but its officials and spokescritters had to make it all about them.

      1. Ludus57

        Thanks, Yves.
        I got the impression from Putin’s speech that he was mainly talking about doing most of the things needed to continue the process of building a modern country that worked for its citizens – a process that should have started under his predecessor Yeltsin, who instead followed the neoliberal playbook and created an oligarch-dominated economic basket case.
        Oh that the West had leaders interested in creating long-term prosperity and security for their people.
        I suppose we can always resort to whistling……….

        1. digi_owl

          It is one of the “benefits” of having the same people in charge for a decade+, they can take long term views and start projects that take years blossom.

          The problem is that of succession, as rarely do one strike upon such reliable leadership multiple times in a row.

  3. Louis Fyne

    —-Putin’s one big move on the geopolitical front came at the end of his remarks, that Russia would suspend its participation in the START treaty. —

    I’m a 100% peacenik, but exiting START, in my opinion, counter-intuitively, is a good move. The US and Europeans need to wake up and realize that Russia is not bluffing and that the only way to a lasting peace is the good-faith negotiating table.

    The US and EU establishment is drunk on its own propaganda that Russian red lines are irrelevant, that any conflict is limited to the Ukrainian hinterlands (versus the possibility Russian hypersonic missiles raining on Belgian and German military targets, power infrastructure and ports). And even worse—any nuclear exchange will be winnable by the US.

  4. Mr Robert Christopher

    Putin cannot be taken seriously while he does things that are totally incomprehensive to Western politicians:

    “Putin seems to genuinely relish exercising power in comparatively mundane ways: launching new programs that improve material conditions or security and getting them completed.

    But the many many plans that Putin described each by each might not seem that significant, all together they represent a substantial commitment to invest in science, technology and education, transportation, housing, hospitals and schools, to manage the impact of the war, from integrated programs for veterans and families of the fallen to reconstruction in the liberated oblasts, to supporting the arts and culture.”

    He must do something really strange, like listen to people that know real stuff.

      1. digi_owl

        Either the late communist era, or something ingrained in the Russian psyche, seems to make them reflexive cynics. Thus the kind of PR that has driven the west since Bernays, and went into overdrive with Bill Clinton, seem to not take hold there.

        In some sense this article make me think of Napoleon. Yes he went to war all over Europe, but he also instituted a litany of reforms that is benefiting the world to this day.

        1. hk

          I imagine it goes back to at least the era of Peter I, if not earlier. There was a commentary by someone in 19th century about Peter I (the details of which I can’t remember for my life) that was simultaneously admiring of the reforms he brought and very cynical about the brutal tyranny of his rule without disputing that it was probably necessary. I remember thinking that it was a very informative summary of the Russian worldview about government.

          Several Russian thinkers (Dostoevsky and Turgenev among them) had remarks to the effect that the result of torture is not “2+2 = 5,” but “2+2 = 4.” (And this was, supposedly, the part about Orwell that was very tough to translate to Russian, and I’ve been told that at least one translation had latter rather than the former.) This mindset also permeates a lot of Pyotr Kropotkin’s thinking. I imagine that the Russians have never been naive like Orwell (ha!) thinking that the Truth ™ is somehow wonderful and would set them free once you see it. To the Russian, “truth” is tough, difficult, tragic, and tortuous. Some form of “community” and deference to authority is necessary for collective survival in its face, BUT that authority, too, has to defer to the “community” and its needs as well–so not “unlimited” authoritarianism. Ultimately, highly illiberal, but not necessarily undemocratic and quite sensible, in fact. (I’m thinking about Emmanuel Todd’s characterizations)

          1. digi_owl

            Now you got me wondering if environment has something to do with it also. As in the harsher environment of Russia, in particular Siberia etc, means that it is far riskier to be an “individualist” or “contrarian”. As then one may well find oneself out in the cold, literally.

            Compare that to generally warmer climates, where if need be on can just walk off into the sunset like some lone ranger and survive for days or weeks all year.

            1. Polar Socialist

              Not just you, a Russian historian Leonid Milov did his life’s work studying the issue. In his fundamental study “The Russian ploughman and peculiarities of the Russian historical process” he advances the idea that relatively low fertility of the soil and short growing season made it imperative for peasants to work together rather than individually.

              And consequently, low surpluses forced any overlord to rule over much bigger areas than, say, in more western parts of Europe. His theory then assumes that in this kind of socio-economical environment things like division of labor is organized top-down rather than the other way.

              I have my doubts, but I’m neither qualified or knowledgeable enough to argue him :-)

              1. digi_owl

                Again and again i find myself pondering how much in common the Nordics have with Russia, yet our leaders refuse to consider it because they are enamored by France and UK.

                1. Irrational

                  I think you are partly right about that. Caveats: the Nordics are all so small that the Milov point cited by PS above certainly does not apply and they have nowhere near the resources of Russia. In other words, poverty is baked if the population goes beyond what can be fed.
                  The Vikings did venture out no doubt due to the carrying capacity of the land, plenty of Scandies emigrated to the US from 1700s onwards. Only since WWII that the Nordics are topping the economic tables. Shame to throw it all away!

                2. Polar Socialist

                  Oh, don’t get me started on sauna, summer cottages, removing shoes indoors, preferring beer and spirits, eating berries and mushroom (directly from the nature), ice swimming, fast knitting technique and so on and so on and so on…

            2. Daniil Adamov

              Not that we did not have plenty of individualists and contrarians in our history. Hell, how do you think we ended up settling all of Siberia and beyond? A lot of it was people running away from the European power centre: “contrarian” Old Believers from different sects, Cossacks, runaway serfs, plain old opportunists seeking to make money off furs or other resources.

              I’d add that I think the supposed innate collectivism of Russians is extremely exaggerated. It can be advantageous in our circumstances – but it is also something that governments, whether monarchic or Soviet, have found necessary to impose upon the population with great force. The population often responded with revolts, flights, or in the final resort, apathy.

              1. hk

                I don’t know Russian national myths well enough, but I get the sense that Russians never developed anything like the equivalent of the American “rugged individualism” mythos (which is totally bogus, btw, if we were to insist on historical facts and, in many ways, quite poisonous in the modern world, imho.), though….

                1. Piotr Berman

                  To me, the greatest monument to American rugged individualism are suburban developments with almost identical individual houses (you choose from the catalogue…). Imagine a flock of sheep bleating “rugged individualism”. But indeed, if you want over-sugared breakfast cereal, you have hundred options.

                2. Daniil Adamov

                  I think the individualist mythos in America and the collectivist mythos in Russia are of a piece. That is to say, it is assumed by people with little connection to everyday Russian/American life that the policies promoted by the elite are rooted in some national character rather than in a combination of local circumstances and elite interests and ideologies. It is then praised or condemned depending on one’s angle.

                  Also, I’d say the main popular national myth here is that of resilience in the face of weather, warfare and all other hardship. Another, somewhat related one would be that of a careless, indifferent attitude towards all of life’s troubles and complications. As for collectivism… well, selflessness and camaraderie are also popular enough, I guess, but they’re not quite the same.

                  1. hk

                    Good point. While there might be a certain grain of truthiness to the mythos, the way they are sold are probably are far from the truth. I’ll have to think about that harder when thinking about such things.

                  2. Aaron

                    In both cases, they support ideology. To the people who rule in the West, it is very important to pretend we have always been a nation of individualist frontiersmen who don’t need the help of any “society” (or to even say society doesn’t exist, a la Thatcher) because it preempts sharing information to work together with your neighbors to solve problems, and also encourages people to look fondly upon the people at the top who of course “made it” by virtue of their individual prowess. To those same rulers, it’s important to cast various places in Asia as inherently (even racially) part of a “hive mind” culture that grossly subsumes the individual, i.e., that great atomic unit of our, superior, culture. Since humans are humans everywhere, both of these essentialisms are fraught with contradictions, but those contradictions are not important to the propagation of ideology.

        2. Skip Intro

          Their relatively recent experience with the overnight imposition of complete neoliberal deconstruction of public infrastructure on a populace cynical about the critiques of capitalism they lived with could have shaped their views.
          For frogs in the west, the water temperature has been increasing slowly.

          ‘Everything they told us about communism was false, everything they told us about capitalism was true’

          1. Daniil Adamov

            I have noticed recently that even socialism-bashing Putin-hating liberals in the younger generations seem increasingly receptive to the idea that the free market economy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This in contrast to our old-school doctrinnaire liberals who still believe that the market can do no wrong and that the social state must be destroyed.

  5. Lex

    Suspending START is a massive geopolitical shot across the bow. There was also a veiled threat that Russia would be willing to share nuclear weapons technology. But the speech itself probably isn’t what’s “important” even though it was effectively a step up in breaking with the west.

    Immediately afterwards the US ambassador was summoned and told to stop arming Ukraine. This ties with the Chinese position paper and the high level meetings with China tomorrow. Read it as shaping the diplomatic and public relations space in the global south. Or, “We’ve repeatedly said that bloc behavior is dangerous. The US is committed to continuing this behavior and it represents a threat to collective security. Therefore, we’ll be forming a bloc out of necessity.”

    It seems that we’re fast approaching a momentous historical position where the US empire will be challenged openly by states with the ability to do so. Putin’s speech had hints of it when he talked about US bases and a few other tidbits. I’d summarize the speech as putting the Ukrainian conflict in fuller context: immediately important but just a part of a larger movements. Anyone expecting bombastic statements from Putin doesn’t know him.

    The domestic content was because he’s centering his position on doing what’s best for Russia. He didn’t set out to fight or bring down the US empire, but at this point the only way to protect Russia is to do just that. (I’m not saying he’s right or wrong in the formulation, only that it is the formulation.)

    1. Michaelmas

      Lex: It seems that we’re fast approaching a momentous historical position where the US empire will be challenged openly by states with the ability to do so

      We’re there. That just hasn’t filtered through in the empire and vassal states, which are busily ‘fighting the information war– that is, pumping up their delusional bubble that the conditions of the 1990s still pertain — as hard as they as can

      1. Lex

        Agreed on being already there, but the prime factor is the realization inside the US empire which is not fully there yet. I think this speech kicks off a month of movement that will make it clear to everyone. Except maybe Joe Biden who’s not all there enough to comprehend much except how he’ll go down in history as having defeated Russia.

        1. Synoia

          The senior management does not want to recognize facts, and the underlings may mot raise the issues.

          Twas ever thus.

        2. Michaelmas

          Lex: but the prime factor is the realization inside the US empire which is not fully there yet.

          Oh, that may never come.

          For a possible historical analogy, the Islamic world remained convinced of its absolute superiority to European culture for half a millenium after it wasn’t, till 1798 came and Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt brought a rude awakening as to how backward it had become. (Before Napoleon in turn lost to the British who arrived, formed an alliance with the Ottomans, and beat the French at sea, then on land.)

          Indeed, bin Laden and his gang were still beefing two centuries later that reality had somehow been turned askew because the religion of the Prophet had somehow been cheated out of its rightful global dominance.

          That’s because to a large extent humans are their cultural programming. So Americans will still be going on about how the US is the ‘exceptional nation’ if/when large swathes of the country lose electricity and civic infrastructure largely collapses.

    2. digi_owl

      Effectively this is a siege, and while the castle has deep wells and large granaries, it can’t be on the defensive forever. Sooner or later it will have to take the fight to the aggressor.

      1. Boomheist

        I am not so sure. Russia is virtually self-sufficient in energy, food, industrial base, minerals, and an educated populace; trade deals are expanding in the Global “South” which the West and NATO appear blind to; and above all else the Russian population, carrying vivid memories of the wild 90s and the sufferings from World War II, and living at a standard well below the general west, seems far more able to suffer it out in the coming times of scarcity, unlike we in the West.

        Buckle up.

      2. Daniil Adamov

        I don’t see how we can attack the West directly without starting a nuclear war. Or how they can attack us directly without risking the same, for that matter.

        1. Susan the other

          Well, that’s the absurdity of it. War is obsolete. Why even start one? Biden just promised UKraine 500 million more stuff. Which is piddle. Anybody with two brain cells knows it’s over. If the mysterious objective of this bloody mess was to was to create a new “iron curtain” separating the EU from Eurasian trade it’s questionable how that’s gonna work. IMO this whole thing was a godawful fiasco.

          1. Daniil Adamov

            If it is so obsolete, why does it keep happening?

            Direct war between great powers, however, is almost certainly obsolete. Too risky, and no one is crazy enough for it.

            1. Susan the other

              I’ve been reading about the Middle Ages and all the battles between princes and between emperors and popes. Centuries of warfare. And I have come to the dawn of the Reformation which is claimed to have been caused by the invention of printing. Like having a shared brain. I’m seeing the Internet the same way because the war mongers can’t fake it. They can spread propaganda as thick as peanut butter but a majority of us just won’t eat it, so far they haven’t been able to shut down the truth.

      3. Skip Intro

        I think the question is whether Russia and the BRICS+ group are inside the walls or outside the walls. The attrition war that is draining Ukraine is, on a larger scale, also draining the west, which doesn’t realize that financialization/deindustrialization has substantially undermined the capacity to fight a real conventional war. The NATO plan was a crushing economic first strike which would quickly regime change Russia and open it up for extraction. Haven taken their best shot and missed, the military loss became inevitable, and the delusion-driven rush to empty EU arsenals for the sake of replacing another NATO army in Ukraine seems like a success for Russia.

      4. Piotr Berman

        Honestly, Russia has neighbors. Deficit of the work force: Tadjikistan, Kyrgystan and some others. Not enough drones: Iran. China, India are good customers providing example to others.

        West had some high hopes in the damaging embargo for microchips. Military/industrial grade microchips are produced in Russia, and at large scale, in China. One of the “achievements” of Biden is cooperation of Iran, China and Russia, as neo-cons decided to escalate with all of them at once (Biden refused to retract Trump’s sanction that he could do quickly without loosing face).

        Maritime blockade would dent living standards if brazenly complete, but this is serious nuclear war prologue, followed by attacks on critical economic infrastructure (not all pipelines go from Russia) en route to the nuclear finale.

    3. Ignacio

      I would re-write that in the third paragraph as a momentous historical position where the US empire continues challenging everyone else but to no avail in the case of some countries with the ability to resist the pressure and increasing problems finding/putting muppets here and there, now that everyone knows what the endgame is.

  6. The Rev Kev

    Can’t see the Kremlin transcript in English of his speech online yet but it should be worth reading. In his speeches I use to think that it had a sort of legal approach in that he was explaining what he was doing and why. But to tell you the truth, perhaps it is more a matter of how ‘a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the (action).’ So his speeches are partly for a Russian audience but perhaps also for the Global South as they are not signing up for project Ukraine. Suspending the START treaty is a big one but probably the US was going to pull out of that treaty when it expired in 2026 anyway. So maybe the Russians are giving the US a taste of how that would work out in practice by suspending it and let them chew it over for awhile.

  7. BillC

    In looking for the speech text in English at around 9 AM ET, I only found a short initial portion “to be continued” at the Web site of the Office of the President, but then happened across the Rio [de Janeiro] Times version, apparently complete but of unknown translation. The text is prefaced by a 9-point bulleted summary, the last of which is:

    Putin appears to be very angry, and the speech was emotional, although the text does not reflect that. That Putin is very angry was also evident in signing the agreements with the Donbas republics, which was broadcast immediately after the speech. Putin has never been seen as short-tempered as he was on this occasion.


    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I saw the speech and heard Putin’s vocal timbre. He was not angry. Direct is not angry but just like our reaction to the balloon, any perceived threat seems to produce emotional overshoot.

      The West is not use to having its BS called out and assumes someone must be angry to work up the nerve to so violate the deference the hegemon is due. Putin no longer cares what Western leaders think. His audience is his own people, leaders and citizens outside the Collective West, and ordinary people in the Collective West who might be listening (Putin did say that the West is lying to its voters).

      1. Michaelmas

        Yves S: The West … assumes someone must be angry to work up the nerve to so violate the deference the hegemon is due.


      2. ian

        It was an interesting contrast with Biden’s tone in the Poland speech. Intelligent people who are sure of themselves don’t need to yell.

      3. Randy

        It appears BillC stumbled on a translation for last years speech. Putin was very angry then about the separatist republics and Zelensky’s nuclear weapons talk.

        I haven’t seen or read this years speech but from what I heard Putin has gotten over his anger and instead of getting mad he is getting even.

        1. BillC

          Thank you, Randy. I let the large font title blind me to the small font dateline. Shame on me. I was given pause by the mention of “agreements with the Donbas republics,” but figured it referred to the two oblasts annexed since the initial fusion of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts with Russia. Wrong!

      4. Savita

        I don’t know what the Rio Times was basing its statement upon. But I hear my Russian neighbours outside speaking in Russian all the time. Initially I always thought they were having a heated argument . I wondered why it was so regular. After a while when more context presented over time, I realised it was always just regular pleasant interaction. Encounters with Russian speakers elsewhere were not dissimilar.
        Animated and with gusto, misinterpreted as anger. In marked contrast to the comparatively even and level dialogue of an English speaker – especially an Australian one. (Australians are not emotive)

        1. begob

          The Ukrainian actor Mila Kunis tells a story of having to reassure her American boyfriend that she wasn’t having an argument whenever she phoned home in Russian.

          1. Polar Socialist

            Long time ago Mrs. Socialist said she found it very interesting how flexible Russian language is: when older ladies talk softly it has an ASMR quality to her, news anchors sound like they’re trying to outspeak exited Italians and as a military command language it’s even more impressive than German.

    2. Lex

      Putin was angry when he announced the “special military operation”. This isn’t angry Putin. Seeing angry Putin publicly is exceedingly rare. Yves gets it right.

  8. James

    I remember being in St Petersberg in the summer of 2000 shortly after Putin became president, when the country was still reeling from the effects of Yeltsin’s presidency. There was a pothole off of Nevsky Prospect that was the size of a VW Beetle.

    We in the west take for granted that our potholes will get fixed. For the Russians, whether or not their potholes are getting fixed may be a good metric for how good a particular leader is.

    1. Michaelmas

      James: We in the west take for granted that our potholes will get fixed

      For decreasing values of ‘we in the West.’

      Consider, forex, people in Jackson, Mississippi and East Palestine, Ohio, and what they’ve learned about the real state of things. Then expect the mismanagement and dysfunction they’ve experienced to spread.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        You should see the freeway from Toledo to Detroit. I can’t remember which “I-” it is but years ago it was down to being barely paved. Perhaps it was fixed but I doubt it…..

          1. juno mas

            Potholes are serious problem in Santa Barbara. Another five years and we’ll all be on e-bikes because our SUV’s are in repair.

      2. Ludus57

        Here in the UK, ITN Evening News has just broadcast two back-to-back packages; firstly of a bombed maternity hospital in Ukraine, and secondly of a NHS hospital in London, which is suffering from Tory austerity and the resulting lack of regular maintenance. There was little to distinguish their appearances.
        It says a lot about Conservative attitudes and the consequences – particularly in the West.

    2. hk

      I lived in San Diego between 2000 and 2007. For much of this period (can’t remember which years exactly–but it lasted at least 2-3 years), no pothole was getting fixed in the city, including in the well-to-do area around UC San Diego, for a combination of dysfunctional city politics combined with budget issues. This was in a quite rich city in a state supposedly being well-governed, not merely in the US. I don’t think anyone in the US realistically expects potholes will get fixed nowadays, at least not in a timely manner.

    3. digi_owl

      Maybe the older gens, but the younger ones are seeing ever growing potholes everywhere. That is, if they were to lift their noses from their digital pacifiers long enough to glance around.

    4. Dr. John Carpenter

      “We in the west take for granted that our potholes will get fixed.”

      The streets in my neighborhood beg to differer with you. The one right in front of my house could swallow a child with no effort.

      1. AG

        lets open a thread on “potholes”

        there is a documentary by Russian director Viktor Kosakovskiy in 2003 where he was observing the street in front of his apartment in St. Petersburg. Well there was a pothole in the centre of the street and the centre of this 80 minute film…


        This was beloved by its small audience in the West, naturally, because it fit the akward, incapable Russian.

        In fact Kosakovskij has made a name for himself by playing that particular role for those countries who would care to give him film funding to do movies that would confirm their bullshit romantic cliches of Russia and the East.

        Kosakovskij of course tried to somehow maneuver through this “mine field.”

        The artist as court -jester and still the smartest man in the room.

        They hate Putin among others for taking away this practical image from them.

        Regarding the fairy-tale of “rich” EU-citizens who can not bear difficult times unlike the common “Russian” – well, come back to reality and you will be surprised how much experience many of “us” already have in doing just that.

        p.s. try to return empty bottles at the supermarket in the evening in rich Germany – you will be standing in a long line of individuals who give back bottles, because each one is worth 25 cents.

        Several have turned this into a profession, collecting and returning bottles… btw these bottle deposits were introduced by guess who, the Green Party, in particular former minister for environment, Jürgen Trittin.

        That was considered a major political victory back then. ha-ha.
        But who would remember that…

        – Yves, thx for the post (as always)

        1. AG

          I know the level of poverty is still way better than in other parts of Europe but since I was on it:

          -20% of all children in Germany are endangered by poverty
          -the upper 50% of Germans own 99,5% of Germany´s wealth
          -the lower 50% of Germans own accordingly 0,5 % of Germany´s wealth
          -annually 400 bn Euros are being inherited (4 times the infamous “Zeitenwende” – sea-change budget for German military) – inheritance that results annually in 11bn tax return

          for German speakers here: a short (I think 20 min.) radio discussion on this subject (the podcast starts with this)

      2. Edgar, not Edmund

        All y’all talking about potholes is reminding me of the final season of David Simon et al.’s Treme, which was more of a five episode coda. In the first episode, Davis drives into a giant pothole. He spends the rest of the season trying to get it filled, and, at one point, uses a traffic cone and assorted junk to build a pothole scarecrow to warn other drivers. Naturally, he never succeeds. But, by the last episode, the scarecrow has been added to by neighbors and passers-by, and transformed into a glorious symbol of creativity and resilience in the face of incompetence and neglect.

        Here’s the trailer, cued up to the pothole.

    5. Stephen

      Not in my part of Surrey.

      The local roads are entirely potholes with a little bit of tarmac connecting them. Cycling is a nightmare and you almost need a big SUV just to have a big enough wheel when you go over them.

      The only exceptions are the various private roads, of which there are quite a few round here.

      1. dandyandy

        On a positive note, the Claygate slip off A3 by the travelers compounds, which featured potholes the size of a small horse, just got miraculously fixed! First time in about 5 years! One can drive without risking a detached wheel.

        1. Stephen

          I drive through Claygate every now and again. Will watch out for that fix!

          We have been trying to get our local councillors in Thames Ditton to deal with a dangerous junction / set of traffic lights onto Portsmouth Road. Two of them showed up to inspect it six months ago and empathised but they were doubtful that the awesome Surrey bureaucracy would do anything. Although it has built a nice new HQ for itself. They were right: there has been zero action and it is almost not worth chasing.

          A thread on how customer oriented various governments are beyond potholes might be interesting. The U.K. government machine seems to be a law unto itself and almost prides itself I believe in not being responsive.

      2. begob

        Surrey is like the west of Ireland, but within bicycle-commute from London. Last time I drove through my car got a complete wash from a single puddle.

        1. Stephen

          I was cycling this morning, it was raining, albeit not so much by UK standards and you are absolutely right. The drains don’t work and I was worried about aquaplaning in some of the puddles.

  9. LifelongLib

    FWIW I glanced over the AP coverage of Putin’s speech. There was nothing about the invasion of Ukraine being “unprovoked” or Putin making “false allegations”. Overall the language was a little more neutral (or a bit less propagandistic) than what we’ve been seeing. Does this reflect some shift within the U.S. press establishment?

    1. Irrational

      The FT seems to have switched to “brutal” and “illegal”, dropping the “unprovoked”. Is it a sign or an oversight? Can they move on from there and acknowledge that Russia recognized the independence of the Donbass and came to their aid in textbook application of the UN charter? Probably a step too far.

    1. square coats

      I’m curious why the right to self-determination is only mentioned in passing.

      The UN Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations has quite a bit to say about the right to self-determination, such as (emphasis mine):

      The establishment of a sovereign and independent State, the free association or integration with an independent State or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people constitute modes of implementing the right of self-determination by that people.

      Every State has the duty to refrain from any forcible action which deprives peoples referred to above in the elaboration of the present principle of their right to self-determination and freedom and independence. In their actions against, and resistance to, such forcible action in pursuit of the exercise of their right to self-determination, such peoples are entitled to seek and to receive support in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter.


      Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples as described above and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or colour.

    1. Rolf

      My God, what a rambling, incoherent mess. This reminds me of her “speech” in Taiwan, which was almost unintelligible. ChatGPT would be improvement. For that matter, can we be sure that she isn’t a bot? Could she pass a Turing test?

  10. spud

    america blew its wealth on the idiocy of free trade/free market economics, thanks bill clinton

    mean while all of americas wealth was blown by bill clintons complete economic nonsense, free trade, deregulation, privatization, tax breaks for rich parasites, jim crow laws, vicious attacks on children, minorities, women and the elderly

  11. J_Schneider

    If we assume that Russia is in conflict with NATO and not with Ukraine then let’s ask – where is it going to hurt NATO the most? In strategic weapons. Trump’s administration calculated that modernization of US strategic force is going to cost $1 trillion over 20 years. Now, after Covid and UKR war it is probably $2 trillion. And it turns out that the US is not able to produce lots of stuff it needs for its strategic nuclear forces. Does that mean that the US will never catch up with Russia in this area? Maybe. Tactical hypersonic weapons are likely the same case. Then, China – building new nulear missile silos. North Korea – new toys every few years. Iran has reached 90% in uranium enrichment. Will the US fight wars on 3 fronts at the end? Next, geopolitical turbulences mean higher inflation which almost automatically leads to higher interest rates and most expansive national debt and consumer debt. No fun for the US and EU where government debt to GDP stands at 100% and GDP growth is slowing down to zero. EU consumers have already capitulated. Will Putin keep Ukrainian war going for 6 more months and drain NATO of all arms, ammo and money?

    1. Paradan

      400 new or refurbished silos plus new bunkers and equipment for the missile crews, 500 ICBMS( they launch 1 or 2 a year to test readiness) and spare parts for them, anywhere from 400 to 4000 new or refurbished warheads depending on how they react to START being gone, 12 new SSBNs with 16 SLBMs and 2500-3000 warheads, 10(?) squadrons of B-21s and we’ll say that the bombs for them are already done or will be soon.

      No way they’re gonna get that done for anything less then $10 trillion.

      1. J_Schneider

        Thank you for update. Now let’s imagine that all this is financed by debt (which is the reality because either military budget or social expenditures are financed by debt) borrowed at 4% p.a. The whole toypark is going to cost some $15 trillion over next 20 years including cost of debt. On top of that there is budget for conventional forces and money for tons of veterans. As we are talking about lots of new technologies which in many cases exist only in presentations there are huge risks that many of them will never be deployed in form of new weapons and lots of money will be wasted. Or they will be deployed and it will trun out that they are good enough to fight Taliban only (e.g. Why does B-21 carry drop-out nuclear bombs? Is a B-21 going to make it as far as Moscow or Beijing ??) I wonder if it is not better and cheaper to make a deal with Moscow and invest the money in areas where the US still has technological edge.

  12. digi_owl

    And in relation to this, Zelensky has just published a speech that is a downright doozy, already cheering how the rebuilding will drive global economic growth with USA as the locomotive. And glorifying the entry of JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, as well as how American weapon systems unify the two nations.

  13. digi_owl

    Never mind, i got the dates all wrong. it was from a month ago and somehow flew under my radar. Talk about selling the bear early…

  14. LawnDart

    I missed these when they were published earlier– one of two articles on the Ukraine conflict, from an Arab perspective:

    War in Ukraine: A conflict that will decide the global system’s fate

    The war in Ukraine could be the most significant geopolitical event in this century, as it represents an embodiment of the shift in the global balance of power. Such an action made by Russia, intervening to protect what it describes as its non-negotiables, and the actions of many countries taking the decision not to side with the collective West, could not have even been imagined two decades ago. It is safe to assume that the undeniable shifts in the global political and economic epicenter to the East permitted states seeking a more independent approach and autonomy from western hegemony to undertake risky political actions…

    Plowing through the narratives of both sides regarding the factors that drove the event the way they went would take much more than this article can discuss, so we will try to stick to concrete events and numerical data in analyzing this conflict, its aspects, and the possible outcomes that the coming year might hold.


  15. LawnDart

    (2/2) Seems as if the author could be in the NC readership:

    War in motion: Will new Western arms tip current balance in Ukraine?

    …To summarise, the aforementioned systems would provide a boost to the Ukrainian forces’ fire and maneuvering capabilities while extending their area of action behind Russian lines. But each one of these systems possesses previously mentioned limitations and will have other limitations to be discovered on the battlefield, such is the nature of warfare. In addition, Western countries are already bringing down the numbers of the offered systems that will arrive in time for the advertised upcoming “spring offensive”.

    Russia, on the other hand, undoubtedly has problems of its own, and many of these problems have been created by the effectiveness of Ukrainian forces in the fall offensive, as well as the continuous Western support for Ukraine in this war. Moscow has all the military means and the numbers to nullify the effects of the to-be-delivered systems in the coming period, especially since they could only contribute to forming only a handful of brigades if they were concentrated…

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