Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Putin's Riddles

President Putin's speech at Wedensday's Victory Parade on Moscow's Red Square caused quite a stir in the foreign press. The New York Times interpreted the speech as having "obliquely compared the foreign policy of the United States to the Third Reich". The Financial Times found "renewed attacks on what he (Putin - Blog Author's note) calls US unilateralism, saying there were “new threats” based on “the same disregard for human life and the same pretensions to international exclusivity and diktat as in the Third Reich”.

The speech taken word-for-word from the Kremlin press-service, more specifically the excerpt that caused such an uproar, goes as following:

Victory Day not only unites the people of Russia but also unites our neighbours in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. We are deeply grateful to the generation of people whose difficult fate it was to face this war. They have passed on to us their traditions of fraternity and solidarity and their truly hard-won experience of unity and mutual aid. We will preserve this sacred memory and historical legacy.

Those who attempt today to belittle this invaluable experience and defile the monuments to the heroes of this war are insulting their own people and spreading enmity and new distrust between countries and peoples.

We have a duty to remember that the causes of any war lie above all in the mistakes and miscalculations of peacetime, and that these causes have their roots in an ideology of confrontation and extremism.

It is all the more important that we remember this today, because these threats are not becoming fewer but are only transforming and changing their appearance. These new threats, just as under the Third Reich, show the same contempt for human life and the same aspiration to establish an exclusive dictate over the world.

It is my conviction that only common responsibility and equal partnership can counter these challenges and enable us to join forces in resisting any attempts to unleash new armed conflicts and undermine global security.

What is certain is the indirect reference to Estonia whose people "defile the monuments to the heroes of this war". That reference was very anticipated, since President Putin never made any public statements on the diplomatic conflict between Estonia and Russia, unlike the members of his "vertical of power", rooting for the escalation of a conflict that has hurt Russia more than Estonia.

It is far-fetched, however, to say that the phrase about some force or country out there that shows "contempt for human life and an aspiration to establish and exclusive dictate", the roots of which lie in an ideology of "confrontation" and "extremism", can be attributed to the US. Yet, what it actually refers to is unclear; if the speech were two or three years old, it would be most likely attributed to the extremism stemming from the Middle East. It is very unlikely that this topic could be brought up again, but the range of other meanings of this statement is very narrow (the US is not within the list).

With regard to misinterpretations, there is an euphemism in the Russian language, "The hat is always on fire on the thief's head" (referring to a guilty conscience speaking). The only way a link between Putin's speech and the United States foreign policy can be established is if there is inner belief in the minds of the journalists and political analysts that the US does resemble the mystery country President Putin mentioned.

Interpreting President Putin' speeches has been as easy as interpreting the Sphinx's riddles. Russian journalists and political analysts have for at least three years now been trying to discern who will lead the country after President Putin steps down, and whether he will step down after all. As a result there are at least five candidates for the Russian presidency, two of which most people think will be on the ballot, but not one of them has affirmed the start of the presidential campaign, neither has Putin given the green flag for the race for the presidency.

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