Anders Åslund: Reality Lost in Translation
The Russian president’s annual State of the Nation speech gave us a good look at his parallel reality. Still, his Orwellian worldview could use a good translator.
We have become used to Putin and other Russian officials lying blatantly about everything all the time and we tend to ignore them with a yawn, but most Russians are inclined to accept much of it. They do not appear to blame Putin for his war on Ukraine. Instead, they seem to accept it as a natural catastrophe that just happened. In order to set the Russian mind right, Russians need to understand that the war in Ukraine is Putin’s fault.
With this in mind, I listened to Putin’s state of Russia speech today. It is detached from reality, but it is easy to translate into reality. I quote the first thirteen clear statements in Putin’s speech from the Kremlin translation into English and try to translate them into reality.
“One year ago, to protect the people in our historical lands, to ensure the security of our country and to eliminate the threat coming from the neo-Nazi regime that had taken hold in Ukraine after the 2014 coup, it was decided to begin the special military operation.” If Putin had been honest (which he is not), he would not have blamed the passive “it” but declared that:
I, Vladimir Putin, and only I, decided to start an unprovoked war of aggression against our peaceful neighbor Ukraine. Ukraine posed no threat to Russia. Unlike Russia, Ukraine is a democracy. Unlike Russia, it has hardly any Nazis. Yanukovych was legally impeached and ousted with a two-thirds majority of the Ukrainian parliament.
“Since 2014, Donbas has been fighting for the right to live in their land and to speak their native tongue.” Donbas voted for Ukraine’s independence in December 1991 and has lived happily in peace and freedom using Russian in Ukraine until Putin started torturing and killing them in 2014. It is Russian troops, not Ukrainians, who have killed so many Russian-speakers in the east and south of Ukraine.
“…we were doing everything in our power to solve this problem by peaceful means, and patiently conducted talks on a peaceful solution to this devastating conflict.” In reality, Russia exploited the Minsk process to block peace and prepare for another war of aggression against Ukraine.
“The concepts of honor, trust, and decency are not for them.” It is unclear who he is referring to by “them.” This is Putin’s way of saying that the Russian government is not bound by any concepts of honor, trust, or decency.
“Over the long centuries of colonialism, diktat and hegemony, they got used to being allowed everything.” As Putin does, he uses accusation against others to legitimize his own bad behavior. Today, Russians are the last defenders of colonialism, which Putin thinks allows them to do everything that former colonial powers have done.
“It turned out that they treat people living in their own countries with the same disdain, like a master.” Again, Putin uses a lie as a justification for his repression of the Russian people, while all the Western countries, by contrast, are democracies.
“Indeed, the Western elites have become a symbol of total, unprincipled lies.” Putin says so to justify that he lies about everything all the time. That is just a part of the Western world, which is not true.
“We were open and sincerely ready for a constructive dialogue with the West.” This means that Russia wanted the West to surrender, but it refused to do so, which is of course unacceptable in Putin’s view.
“Finally, in December 2021, we officially submitted draft agreements on security guarantees to the U.S. and NATO. In essence, all key, fundamental points were rejected.” The last statement is actually true, because this was a bizarre Russian ultimatum to NATO to expel all new East European members since 1997. It was nothing but a proposal to the West to surrender, but the West naturally refused.
“The threat was growing by the day. Judging by the information we received, there was no doubt that everything would be in place by February 2022 for launching yet another bloody punitive operation in Donbas. Let me remind you that back in 2014, the Kyiv regime sent its artillery, tanks and warplanes to fight in Donbas.” In 2014, the Ukrainian government legally defended its internationally recognized territory against lawless Russian aggression. From April 2021, Russia had gathered vast troops around Ukraine preparing for a new attack, while the West did a minimum to support Ukraine’s defense.
“We all remember the aerial footage of airstrikes targeting Donetsk. Other cities also suffered from airstrikes.” It is unclear what Putin is referring to but presumably he is talking about Russia’s terror bombing of many Ukrainian cities in 2014 and 2022 and blaming them on Ukraine.
“Let me reiterate that they were the ones who started this war, while we used force and are using it to stop the war.” Here comes the ultimate lie. It was of course Putin, and nobody but Putin, who started this war of aggression, which he is denying all the time. On other occasions he has claimed, like a true psychopath, that he had no choice. Unfortunately, his lies seem to work in Russia because of the pervasive censorship and television propaganda.
“We are defending human lives and our common home, while the West seeks unlimited power.” This is Putin language for him killing as many Ukrainians and Russians as he can to maintain his dictatorship and kleptocracy, while the West supports democracy and freedom.
Needless to say, it is meaningless to pursue any negotiations or even conversations with a political leader who lies all the time. Through his bizarre state of the Russia speech, Putin once again disqualified himself as a serious international politician.
Anders Åslund is the writer of “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: the Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy.”
The article was first published in Kyiv Post.