Recently I had a private conversation with a friend of mine about what is going on in Russia, and the West's assessment of it. During our conversation, I stressed that one of Russia's principal assets is a kind of "soft power" that the modern post-Christian West has little understanding of. Indeed, I stressed that in a certain sense, the Russian Federation is probably the only genuinely "post-secular" state in the world, having lived through the horrors of Communism and Marxism, which, let us recall, were "post-Christian" western imports imposed on Russia by force (and considerable Western financial backing, a story the Russians know all too well). In a sense, then, Russia understands something about the inevitable outcomes of the type of materialism reigning in the contemporary "post-Christian" secular West that the West itself has not yet reached. In essence, in our conversation I was arguing for the hypothesis that Russia was, from a certain point of view, further down the path of history than the West. Russia lived through its "post-Christian" stage and has emerged on the other side of it, and is engaged in something entirely new, and it is this "something new" that Western analysts, with their secular and "scientific" outlook, are missing entirely.
No sooner had we concluded our conversation (On Dec. 2), than Mr. Putin gave what, in effect, is the Russian equivalent of the State of the Union address before the assembled deputies of the Russian State Duma(and I must kindly thank Ms. D.O., a regular reader here, for bringing this to my attention):
I want to draw your attention to the opening remarks of Mr. Putin's address:
"Of course, we will talk about this year’s landmark events. You know that a referendum was held in Crimea in March, at which its residents clearly expressed their desire to join Russia. After that, the Crimean parliament – it should be stressed that it was a legitimate parliament that was elected back in 2010 – adopted a resolution on sovereignty. And then we saw the historical reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia.
"It was an event of special significance for the country and the people, because Crimea is where our people live, and the peninsula is of strategic importance for Russia as the spiritual source of the development of a multifaceted but solid Russian nation and a centralised Russian state. It was in Crimea, in the ancient city of Chersonesus or Korsun, as ancient Russian chroniclers called it, that Grand Prince Vladimir was baptised before bringing Christianity to Rus.
"In addition to ethnic similarity, a common language, common elements of their material culture, a common territory, even though its borders were not marked then, and a nascent common economy and government, Christianity was a powerful spiritual unifying force that helped involve various tribes and tribal unions of the vast Eastern Slavic world in the creation of a Russian nation and Russian state. It was thanks to this spiritual unity that our forefathers for the first time and forevermore saw themselves as a united nation. All of this allows us to say that Crimea, the ancient Korsun or Chersonesus, and Sevastopol have invaluable civilisational and even sacral importance for Russia, like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the followers of Islam and Judaism.
"And this is how we will always consider it."
In short, Mr. Putin was drawing attention to the central defining role that Eastern Orthodoxy has always had and played in the formation of the Russian national and cultural identity, and we would do well to mark his words, for they are most decidedly not the words of a typical American Dummycrook or Republithug "pimping God" during an election cycle. These are most decidedly not the words of a man in a weak position simply appealing to the only thing he has left: religion. These are not words intended solely for a domestic audience or consumption, but for a global one. As I put it long ago in another of my works, Russia is a mystery and enigma to the West not because it is Russia, but because in spite of all efforts to squelch and destroy it, it is Orthodox.
In this light, consider the following remarks:
"It is true that we condemned the government coup and the forceful takeover of power in Kiev in February of this year. The developments we are currently witnessing in Ukraine and the tragedy unfolding in the country’s southeast prove that we were right to take such a stand.
"How did it all begin? I will have to remind you what happened back then. It is hard to believe that it all started with a technical decision by President Yanukovych to postpone the signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. Make no mistake, he did not refuse to sign the document, but only postponed it in order to make some adjustments.
"As you recall, this move was fully in line with the constitutional authority vested upon an absolutely legitimate and internationally recognised head of state.
"Against this background, there was no way we could support this armed coup, the violence and the killings. Just take the bloody events in Odessa, where people were burned alive. How can the subsequent attempts to suppress people in Ukraine’s southeast, who oppose this mayhem, be supported? I reiterate that there was no way we could endorse these developments. What’s more, they were followed by hypocritical statements on the protection of international law and human rights. This is just cynical. I strongly believe that the time will come when the Ukrainian people will deliver a just assessment of these developments.
"How did the dialogue on this issue begin between Russia and its American and European partners? I mentioned our American friends for a reason, since they are always influencing Russia’s relations with its neighbours, either openly or behind the scenes. Sometimes it is even unclear whom to talk to: to the governments of certain countries or directly with their American patrons and sponsors.
"As I mentioned, in the case of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, there was no dialogue at all. We were told that it was none of our business or, to put it simply, we were told where to go."(Emphasis added)
Note that what Mr. Putin is doing here is very significant: he is calling out the political and moral hypocrisy of the West, and in particular, that of the United States of America, and its constant interference in the internal affairs of other nations, an influence that introduces confusion on the geopolitical stage, an influence making it impossible to negotiate in good faith overtly because there is always a covert factor undermining the conditions of trust and mutual respect that must be in place in order for diplomacy to succeed and for conflict to be averted. And his conclusion is that in the long-term the people of the Ukraine will come to understand this themselves, and that there is little, culturally, that they have in common with the USA and its allies.
In the face of all these things, note again Mr. Putin's emphasis on Russian culture and hence, identity and nationhood:
"If for some European countries national pride is a long-forgotten concept and sovereignty is too much of a luxury, true sovereignty for Russia is absolutely necessary for survival.
"Primarily, we should realise this as a nation. I would like to emphasise this: either we remain a sovereign nation, or we dissolve without a trace and lose our identity. Of course, other countries need to understand this, too. All participants in international life should be aware of this. And they should use this understanding to strengthen the role and the importance of international law, which we’ve talked about so much lately, rather than bend its standards to suit someone's strategic interests contrary to its fundamental principles and common sense, considering everyone else to be poorly educated people who can’t read or write.
"It is imperative to respect the legitimate interests of all the participants in international dialogue. Only then, not with guns, missiles or combat aircraft, but precisely with the rule of law will we reliably protect the world against bloody conflict. Only then, will there be no need to scare anyone with imaginary self-deceptive isolation, or sanctions, which are, of course, damaging, but damaging to everyone, including those who initiate them.
"Speaking of the sanctions, they are not just a knee-jerk reaction on behalf of the United States or its allies to our position regarding the events and the coup in Ukraine, or even the so-called Crimean Spring. I’m sure that if these events had never happened – I want to point this out specifically for you as politicians sitting in this auditorium – if none of that had ever happened, they would have come up with some other excuse to try to contain Russia’s growing capabilities, affect our country in some way, or even take advantage of it.
"The policy of containment was not invented yesterday. It has been carried out against our country for many years, always, for decades, if not centuries. In short, whenever someone thinks that Russia has become too strong or independent, these tools are quickly put into use."(Emphasis added)
Now compare this rhetoric with that of Mr. Obama or other American politicians in recent history, who are always reminding us, and the rest of the world, that the USA is "the indispensable nation." There is none of the "Aryan hubris" in Mr. Putin's remarks. He is not arguing for Russia's indispensability, but merely for its cultural identity and uniqueness. Rather, there is a solemn rehearsal of the West's recent activities since the fall of the Soviet system, and Russia's response, and a warning:
"Despite our unprecedented openness back then and our willingness to cooperate in all, even the most sensitive issues, despite the fact that we considered – and all of you are aware of this and remember it – our former adversaries as close friends and even allies, the support for separatism in Russia from across the pond, including information, political and financial support and support provided by the special services – was absolutely obvious and left no doubt that they would gladly let Russia follow the Yugoslav scenario of disintegration and dismemberment. With all the tragic fallout for the people of Russia.
"It didn’t work. We didn’t allow that to happen.
"Just as it did not work for Hitler with his people-hating ideas, who set out to destroy Russia and push us back beyond the Urals. Everyone should remember how it ended."
And later, the warning is strengthened:
"We have said much about this. I will not go into details now. I will only say this. Maybe I am repeating myself. We have no intention to become involved in a costly arms race, but at the same time we will reliably and dependably guarantee our country’s defence in the new conditions. There are absolutely no doubts about this. This will be done. Russia has both the capability and the innovative solutions for this.
"No one will ever attain military superiority over Russia. We have a modern and combat ready army. As they now put it, a polite, but formidable army. We have the strength, will and courage to protect our freedom.
"We will protect the diversity of the world. We will tell the truth to people abroad, so that everyone can see the real and not distorted and false image of Russia. We will actively promote business and humanitarian relations, as well as scientific, education and cultural relations. We will do this even if some governments attempt to create a new iron curtain around Russia.
"We will never enter the path of self-isolation, xenophobia, suspicion and the search for enemies.
"All this is evidence of weakness, while we are strong and confident."(Emphasis added)
Observe the reference to "innovative solutions." In my opinion, notwithstanding the many indicators within his address of significant problems within Russia, Mr. Putin has already given a hint of what some of those 'innovative solutions" to Russia's geopolitical situation are, for he has outlined a propaganda program of cultural offensive: one based on dealing in good faith, while pointing out Western institutional, moral, and geopolitical hypocrisies. To be sure, his own speech outlines salient features of corruption within Russia.But he is absolutely clear and consistent in his messages to the West: Russia intends to wage a propaganda and culture war, and will not tolerate, for an instant, cultural absorption into some post-Christian western New World Order. That is why the western elite so hates him, and Russia.
And that means an asymmetrical war, one that reaches out to the disenchanted elements - of which there are a plenty - in the West itself. As I've said many times, covert operations are a game two (or more) people can play. Russia, I believe, is set to begin playing the game very differently than it has ever been played before. Forget about the Marxist dialectic. There's a whole new dialectical game in town. Russia is engaged in a grand experiment, one few understand, and that experiment is, can a fusion of democracy, capitalism, liberty, be accomplished while preserving that unique and deeply rooted cultural identity that Mr. Putin refers to at the beginning of his speech?
The west, for reasons that are all too obvious, desperately wants the answer to be "no." But whatever the answer to that question ultimately turns out to be, what one must understand is that this is a very long-term game. Sadly, few in the West get the grand nature of the experiment under way in Russia, even though there were indications all along, indications that were, typically, mis-read. Of course, Soviet armies did not "liberate" Eastern Europe, except to get rid of one form of tyranny to replace it by another. But even here, one would do well not to mis-read Mr. Putin's words. They contain yet another subtle warning, one that is not, ultimately, a throwback to Stalinism.
See you on the flip side...