Putin wants the world to forget Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war

As Vladimir Putin finished his first term in office in 2004, he tried to develop modern channels of communication with the world, especially the West. That is why the Valdai Club was launched, together with its annual conference in which the president would participate. It became one of the main venues where the Russian leader would address the rest of the world.

From the mid-2000s to the early 2010s, he would spend hours at the conference answering questions from leading Russian experts, talking about the country’s unique democratic development and its openness to the world.

What we heard on October 27, at this year’s Valdai event, was a completely different rhetoric.

Before the event, presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov promised that people “will read and re-read” Valdai Putin’s speech. This was likely to happen what the president wanted, as he finds himself in a moment in history that will define his legacy and he certainly believes that he is not the loser.

But that’s not how many saw his speech. Most of the address was filled with complaints about the West, which led some Russia watchers to dismiss it as another rant by an embittered leader out of touch with reality.

But it is important to dig through Putin’s rather direct rhetoric and at times I find it difficult to understand what his global strategy is. He presented a number of messages directed at different audiences, trying to drive one key idea through: it’s not about Ukraine, it’s about much more than that.

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Putin’s main and most popular narrative directed at the international audience is “the end of the unipolar moment” and “the advent of multipolarity”. He has been preaching about it for most of his presidency, lifting it from the writings of Russia’s former prime minister and foreign minister, the late Yevgeny Primakov.

It is not surprising that it dominates much of his speech in Valdai. He accused the West and the United States of triggering crises and sowing chaos around the world, and repeated his conviction that the rise of other powers requires respect for their interests and participation in shaping the rules of how the world is governed.

His key message – addressed to other powers such as China and India – was that the end of American hegemony should lead to the end of the West’s promotion of democracy and governing institutions, the universality of human rights and what is known as the “liberal world.” order” in general.

It should also make room for a non-Western financial architecture to emerge – an idea Russia has been running with for at least a decade. That is already happening to some extent in the form of de-dollarization, but clearly not at the pace that Putin needs to combat the negative consequences of Western sanctions.

The Russian president also addressed the Global South with an updated version of Soviet messages: that Moscow respects the sovereignty and right of every nation to “follow its own path”, unlike the Western colonial powers who have not done so in historical. He also pointed to the continued economic dominance of the West and the exploitation of developing countries through “neocolonial” globalization.

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Putin also did not miss the opportunity to talk about the “sickness” of Western societies, apparently directing his words to those who oppose their governments in the West or disagree with mainstream cultural and social norms.

It specifically seemed to play on the sentiments of Western conservatives, bringing up a “cancellation culture” and presenting it as a despotic erasure of what is deemed wrong or no longer tolerable by liberal elites. He spoke of the traditional, Christian core of Western civilisation, dismissing “weird ideas” such as “dozens of gender and gay pride parades”. Putin emphasized that his problem was with the Western “elites” not the Western people.

The Russian president even tried to appeal to environmentalists, announcing that the West is ignoring climate change because of conflict with Russia.

In short, it gave everyone in the West, East and South a broad enough reason to think about their own problems and about global crises and to see the war in Ukraine through that prism: it is not about with Ukraine; it’s about much more.

This is the message that Putin and the Kremlin are trying to convey to the world and especially to the West – the cost of supporting Ukraine is too much, and its importance – too insignificant, o’ to compare with what the world is dealing with. It can be solved simply with “dialogue on an equal basis”.

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Moscow, of course, plays an important role in preventing these crises: from waging a gas war on the European Union to undermining the UN grain deal, curbing Ukrainian wheat exports and exacerbating food shortages in the Global South. The aim is to draw the world’s attention away from the war in Ukraine, and present it as a small, regional – if not domestic – issue.

Indeed, for those who do not follow the war in Ukraine closely, who do not understand the context and who doubt ​​the news about war crimes, what the Putin says it seems reasonable enough. But unfortunately, what he envisages as a “dialogue” or a “solution”, in reality, is the full surrender of Ukraine – the West agreeing to step back and turn a blind eye to the horrors of war and occupation Russian.

This is the pluralism that Putin preaches – a world order that enables those with the power to do what they want and to bend international laws.

And although Putin wants the world to forget Ukraine, he is obsessed with it. For him this is a personal affair; it is about delivering “historical justice” in its Russian imperial understanding of it.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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