Vladimir Putin’s threatening televised speech on Wednesday was more than a bid to change the course of his stalemate war against Ukraine. It is an attempt to turn a war of aggression against a neighboring country into a war of defense of a threatened “homeland,” a theme that resonates with Russians steeped in patriotic history.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aim was nothing less than to change the meaning of war for his country and raise the stakes of the whole world. He warned the West with the unmistakable words, “This is no bluff.”
Rattling his nuclear sabers, accusing the West of trying to “destroy” his country, and ordering the call-up of 300,000 military reserves, President Putin hoped the war he started on February 24 would go his way. I tacitly admitted that I didn’t. He portrayed Ukrainians as little more than pawns of “Western group military machines.”
By straying far from its original goal of demilitarizing and “de-Nazi” all of Ukraine, he makes nonsense the outrageous claims of the Kremlin that the war is proceeding as planned, and implicitly denies what he has always denied. recognized within Growing resistance to a united Ukrainian state.
But a cornered Putin is the Putin in the most danger. It was one of the core lessons he learned of his troubled youth from the furious reaction of a rat cornered in a stairwell in what was then Leningrad.
“Russia won its defensive war against Napoleon and Hitler. The most important thing Putin did here from a psychological point of view was to argue that this was also a defensive war,” said the French book Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin. “It was an offensive war. Now it is the defense of the Russian world against Western attempts to disconnect.”
The imaginary world imbued with the essence of non-negotiable Russia, Putin says, is getting bigger. He said Russia supports imminent referendums on whether to join Russia in four regions of Ukraine. accused of being expensive.
The Kremlin said that if it absorbed its territories, the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensives in the east and south to retake the territories occupied by Russia would be considered attacks on Russian territories and would retaliate at any level, including nuclear reactions. will justify.
“If our territorial integrity is threatened, of course we will do everything possible to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said.
Despite his denials, his speech, which of course may have been a bluff, nevertheless confronted the West with the dilemma inherent in Western policy from the start of the war.NATO forces on the ground— Go without provoking a nuclear confrontation?
“Although I believe the nuclear threat is a bluff, it gives Putin the means to terrorize the West and foment divisions over arms supply. Because there is no
Hours after his speech in Moscow, President Joe Biden denounced Putin’s “overt nuclear threat” against Europe as “reckless.” Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, he said the West’s resolve to confront Putin’s “brutal and unnecessary war” in Ukraine was “clear, resolute and unwavering”.
“This war simply extinguishes Ukraine’s right to exist as a nation,” said Biden.
As the war rages on, the edge game has begun as the leaders of the United States and Russia try to outwit each other. If Ukrainian and Western supporters have the advantage so far, that advantage is by no means secure.
Seven months into the war, its solutions seem farther away than ever, and its echoes more dangerous. Perhaps not since the Cuban Missile Crisis 60 years ago have US and Russian leaders confronted the dangers of nuclear war more clearly and sharply.
As German Chancellor Olaf Scholz put it, the United States and its Western allies have sought to use “every means possible” to help Ukraine “without creating uncontrolled escalation.” But the risk of its escalation, perhaps the start of World War III, has increased. This is because Putin may have a different definition of what constitutes a strike “in Russia”.
Filled with anger and spite, Putin, who has painted Ukraine as a neo-Nazi headquarters and the West as a giant engine of “Russophobia,” was paranoid about the neighbors he attacked in his Feb. 24 speech announcing the war. seemed to be doing
He curtailed Russia’s military ambitions in Ukraine — overturned by Russia’s defeat in Kyiv and its recent battlefield setbacks in the northeast — to his humiliation in the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago. without diminishing the obsession of.
On Wednesday, as in February, he falsely accused Ukrainian authorities of committing genocide against Russians. He boasted that nuclear weapons were “more advanced” than those of the West. He made outrageous claims about the threat to Russia. statement by high-ranking representatives of some of the major NATO countries on their acceptability.”
There is no evidence of this.
Putin “argued that Russia is threatened and must act. But no one threatened Russia and no one but Russia called for conflict,” Biden said.
The speech comes on the eve of a difficult winter in Europe due to inflation and rising energy costs, and just days before Sunday’s Italian general election, in which far-right candidate Giorgia Meloni is the front-runner. Although Meloni’s own position appears to be evolving, the far right in Europe generally sympathizes with Moscow.
So far, Biden has been very effective in cementing Western cohesion. We want dialogue, and French President Emmanuel Macron, as he said in his speech at the United Nations on Tuesday, decided that dialogue was necessary: ”We want peace.”
Not at any price though. Macron’s position was solidified. He portrayed the grim situation in which the world is on the brink of war and brutal division as a result of the invasion by the Russian “Empire”.
He said the world was approaching “an era of extended conflict, a permanent era in which sovereignty and security are determined by force through the size of the military”. He argued that it was essential for those who remain neutral to speak out.
“Those who are silent today are serving the new imperialist cause in spite of themselves or secretly,” Macron said.
Russia’s attempt to rebuild the empire lost in the collapse of the Soviet Union is at a dangerous crossroads. After multiple military setbacks, Putin has spoken out from a weaker position than he held seven months ago.
“The situation is very dangerous because Putin is caught in a trap,” Berman said.
This article was originally published in The New York Times.