President Putin finds his legacy in the fallout from Crimea

 

Share

In his 14 years at the top of Russian politics, Vladimir Putin has become a past master at the set-piece occasion. But his speech to an enraptured audience from both houses of the Russian parliament in the Kremlin’s St George’s Hall may go down at home as his finest hour. Indeed, it may come to be what he and his presidency are remembered for.

Enormous flags billowed behind Putin as he made his formal request for members of the Duma to ratify the reunification, as he put it, of Crimea with the Russian homeland. He had no doubts, through three standing ovations, what their response would be.

This was a speech addressed to multiple audiences. President Putin’s first audience was the people of Crimea; there was a sense of vindication for Crimea’s Russians, who had, as he said referring to 1991, gone to bed one night in one country and awoke, as a minority, in another. There was also reassurance for the Tatars – recognition of their suffering, through banishment at the hands of Stalin – and also for Crimea’s Ukrainian minority.

A gracious touch (grace not being a quality associated with Putin) was his special thanks for the restraint shown by Ukrainian troops in Crimea. In decreeing that Ukrainian and Tatar would be recognised as official languages along with Russian, his sub-text was that “we Russians are not like the new rulers in Kiev whose first act was to rescind the recognition of Russian as Ukraine’s official second language”. The Kremlin was merely setting history right, in a peaceful and tolerant manner, Putin seemed to say.

His next audience was the Russians in Ukraine. For them, there was a pledge of moral support, but nothing more at this stage. Putin drew a sharp distinction between Crimea – charting its history and the way it was transferred to Ukraine in 1954 by Khrushchev – and his apparent acceptance of the rest of Ukraine within its current borders. Russians and Ukrainians, he said, were one people (“narod”), though they inhabited separate countries.

 

For the Russians in Russia, Putin channelled two decades of resentment against the West for the dissolution of the USSR. With a swell of patriotism, he explained that just as post-Soviet Russia had acquiesced in the “loss” of Crimea to Ukraine in the first place, when it signed the Budapest agreement of 1994, Russia had now broken that agreement to intervene in Crimea to bring it back. It was, he said, because a good neighbour had become a bad neighbour (run by extreme nationalists, anti-Russians and pro-Nazis), and there had been a real risk that Russia’s security would be jeopardised if Kiev’s new government were fast-tracked into Nato, ceding Sevastopol to the West.

Last, but certainly not least, was the Western audience. Putin reeled off his familiar litany of Western slights since the end of the Soviet Union: Nato expansion to Russia’s borders despite a promise to the contrary; missile defence; the intervention in former Yugoslavia; support for the “coloured” revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia; refusing to recognise that Russia had interests, too, and leaving it out in the cold.

Then there was the list of “double standards”; Russia was to be punished for annexing Crimea after holding a decisive referendum, but what about the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and recognition of independence for Kosovo? Why should Kosovo’s Albanians be permitted to chart their own course, but not Crimea’s Russians?

Putin’s tone was more business-like than aggressive. He insisted that, while Russia had “reinforced” its troops in Crimea, it had not exceeded the ceiling agreed in 1994. Nor did he overtly share the triumph apparent in the hall. His clarity also suggested, if not an olive branch to Kiev and the West, some hint of how a settlement might be reached. 

However, as Putin signed the annexation treaty with Crimean leaders, all audiences were left with no doubt that Russia’s move will not be reversed. This was a victory speech, given by an emboldened leader, on a day that will be seen by most Russians as a historic achievement.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: TRAINEE RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT - IT - LONDON

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'