The whole world is accustomed to Russian President Vladimir Putin always coming late to meet both foreign heads of state and the national public, as well as holding four- and more hours-long call-in TV shows. The Russian leaders remained loyal to his tradition of being late on August 14. He was four hours late for a meeting with Duma and Cabinet members in Yalta. But, quite unexpectedly, neither the Russian nor the international public heard Putin deliver his much-hyped speech. This time he decided, for some reason, to speak behind the closed door without TV cameras.
First of all, the print media quote the president as saying to the present MPs: “We deserve to meet in Crimea!” What for, I wonder? With due account of what Russia has done in the past year – illegal seizure of Crimea, the aggression against Ukraine in the east, and involvement in the downing of a Malaysian airliner over the territory controlled by pro-Russian terrorists, – that country deserves something different, namely, a place in the dock of the Hague-based International Criminal Court.
Putin repeated again the tall story that one of the causes of the crisis that prompted Crimean residents to ask for joining Russia was the fact that the Ukrainian authorities “used to take very much from and give very little to Crimea.” It is a blatant lie. The same applies to his proposals that the thre – Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar – languages enjoy the same status. This right was enshrined in the Constitution of the Crimean Autonomous Republic. And now that dozens of thousands of Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and Russians have left the peninsula due to harassment by the occupational authorities, his statement that it is necessary to rehabilitate all the indigenous peoples of Crimea and that “Crimea can become a yardstick of reconciliation” has evoked a surprise.
There are many opinions in the world as to how Ukraine should resolve the conflict in the east. Very interesting in this connection is the conclusion of Ahmed Zakayev, president in exile of the Chechen Republic. He said in an interview with Glavkom: “Putin’s main goal in the war that Russia is waging in eastern Ukraine is to make the world stop talking about Crimea. If the Ukrainian government wants to regain its territory, it will have to fight there. Therefore, even if it decides to enter into negotiations, it must only do so with the Russian leadership so that the latter stops the ongoing aggression against Ukraine.”
The Day has asked some experts to comment on Putin’s behind-the-scenes Yalta speech and on what the Russian leader meant by gathering his country’s top officials in Crimea.
Andrii SENCHENKO, member of parliament, Batkivshchyna faction:
“Firstly, the idea of annexing Crimea has in fact ended in a fiasco. They thought that if they financed Crimea’s budget a little, life in the peninsula would be much better than in mainland Ukraine, this would raise the Crimean residents’ spirits, and smoothen the rough edges of the occupation. In reality, nothing of the sort has happened because production has in fact totally ground to a halt in Crimea – this applies to the agrarian and industrial sectors, recreational facilities, and the transport infrastructure. The result is that occupiers have in fact to subsidize 2.5 million people. Add to this the excessive militarization of Crimea, which means enormous expenditures for maintaining the occupational troops, and Western sanctions. For this reason, they are holding back the promised payment of people’s pensions. In reality, they are in dire straits.
“Secondly, there is noticeable discontent. If you take the real economic sector, people are living from hand to mouth there. Besides, not a single enterprise can pay an engineer the salary of a Russian policeman. In reality, passions are rising daily in Crimea due to the status of an occupied territory and attitude of the occupational authorities to the Crimeans. The occupational authorities are constantly showing, in many circumstances, that the Crimeans are second-rate people – they are the aboriginals who should be taught to live by the civilized Russian laws, if this can be called a civilized life.
“From the viewpoint of life support, Crimea is a region in a critical situation which may become catastrophic in the fall and winter season.
“The ‘humanitarian aid convoy’ is a Russian mega-provocation that may be used as a publicity stunt: look, Ukraine is shooting, while we are dishing out aid free of charge. Besides, there may be other options, for example, armed provocations against the convoy, which may be a pretext for a full-scale invasion.
“As for the closed nature of this action, I must say that the Russian regime is not exactly open anyway. Just see the way they keep showing reenacted scenes on TV. Whenever Putin answers a question from a minister or gives one some valuable advice, both of them know very well that it is a show for idiots. There are clearly no positive messages here. If there was something to be proud of as a result of the annexation of Crimea and the unleashed war, they would be, believe me, shouting about this on every street corner. But when there is nothing to speak about, even when answering prearranged questions from pre-instructed journalists, they resort to this kind of closed-door affairs.”
Andrii KLYMENKO, editor-in-chief, Black Sea News; Meritorious Economist:
“Contrary to all expectations, there were no sensations in Putin’s speech. Putin said nothing new. He only repeated what he had been saying in the past few months since the annexation of Crimea. It may be assumed that he was going to announce some crucial decisions, but something went awry. So, Putin confined himself to sheer banalities which everybody is sick and tired to quote.
“Judging by what Putin is saying in public and what the Russian and Crimean occupational authorities are doing, one can conclude that a campaign is being launched to make the world community moderate its position on non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea.
“I can assume that what Putin did not say out loud is a proposal to make peace with Ukraine on condition that nobody will ever mention the Crimea issue. This can be read between the lines and fits in with the overall logic of events: you recognize that Crimea is a Russian territory and we will discontinue the civil war in Ukraine and have the sanctions lifted.
“The very fact of Putin visiting Crimea and making this speech to State Duma members can be explained with a not so polite comparison – what Mr. Putin is hastily doing in Crimea is called ‘marking territory’ among animals.
“Knowing the secret language of the Kremlin’s political elite, one can come to a conclusion: Putin is saying to Crimeans: ‘Stop moaning, you must be patient! We have already doubled your pensions and approved a 27-billion-dollar-worth Crimea development program.’ This is the obvious subtext.
“This time Putin gave no promises, such as ‘we will make a paradise on earth or a world-class resort out of Crimea.’ He never said these words.
“The message that Crimea will be the beginning of reconciliation was not convincing. The question is: between who and who? In Russia, there is nobody to reconcile with anybody else, for 90 percent of the population and the entire political elite support Putin. Who is he calling to reconcile with?
“It is common knowledge that Crimea was the last area the conquest of which by the Red Army in 1920 put an end to the history of the Russian Empire. It is also widely known that the Reds committed atrocities here, such as mass-scale executions of the prisoners of war, who were promised life, and the intelligentsia that lived in Crimea or had moved to Crimea from Russia during the civil war.
“As for the claim that the Ukrainian government ‘used to take very much and give very little,’ Crimea has always been 60 percent subsidized and could never provide itself with at least a half of what it needs.
“As for the likely coincidence between Putin’s visit to Crimea and Russia’s probable attack on Ukraine on the pretext of escorting the ‘humanitarian aid convoy,’ I do not think there will be any invasion while Putin is in Crimea. It is dangerous for him to do so. You can’t possibly launch an intervention if you stay on a territory like the Crimean peninsula. You may fail to fly back home. But when Putin comes back to Moscow from Crimea, we may well hear the signals of invasion – also from the territory of Crimea and involving the so-called ‘humanitarian convoy’ scheme.
“It seems to me that something made Putin change his plans – especially in the light of how this Yalta show was prepared: the media promised to cover his speech live but then canceled this. Whenever live coverage is canceled, this only means that there is nothing to cover. We can presume that Putin planned to announce a package of initiatives to the international community, including Europe, the US, and the UN, but something went wrong. We heard no initiatives.
“The participants in this event are asking a question: why were they forced to forget their favorite French resorts and fly God knows where to take the oath of allegiance to Putin? They don’t have to travel to Crimea for this, for they are always expressing loyalty to him in Moscow…”
Roman DOBROKHOTOV, chairman, democratic movement “We”:
“We expected this [Putin’s speech in Yalta. – Ed.] to resemble Hitler’s speech in Austria after the Anschluss – a ceremonial extravaganza shown on all the channels. But Russian propaganda confined itself to one trailer – the people of Crimea enthusiastically welcome Putin and cry out: ‘Russia!’ The speech itself was in a strange format and contained nothing special.
“Putin’s visit coincided with the moment when a [Russian] ‘humanitarian aid convoy’ was to cross the border of Ukraine. There were fears that Putin’s speech was to precede a statement about this not necessarily humanitarian convoy. But plans may have changed – we know that negotiations are underway between Obama, Merkel, and Putin. No wonder then that planned actions may often turn out to be unnecessary.
“Putin is a poor economist, but not to the extent of being unable to tell a subsidized region from a donor area. It is common knowledge that Crimea used to receive subsidies and was one of the largest, along with Donetsk, subsidized regions.
“The audience that listened to this speech is basically the same as that of Russian television. The latter keeps saying daily that Donetsk feeds western Ukraine and Kyiv. These people will easily believe that Crimea fed Kyiv – they don’t find it very interesting to check this in the Internet. So, Putin’s statements like this are designed for poorly educated audiences which account for the majority of his electorate. While three years ago Putin strove to be liked by everybody, including intellectuals and the middle class, he has been appealing, figuratively speaking, to ‘Urals Railway Car Factory workers’ throughout his third term. Yet there may also be wise and educated people there, who can distinguish between propaganda and true information. But, in the eyes of the Kremlin administration, the recipients of such speeches are, above all, the provincial population or, to be more exact, housewives.
“Putin’s statements contain bombastic words that have something in common with the Anschluss-time Nazi propaganda. The latter was also about the reunification of nations under the wing of one state. The same slogan, ‘One Country – One Nation,’ can be heard at all the Crimea-related rallies. Essentially, Russian propagandists are copying readymade slogans and messages without inventing anything new.
“Russian propaganda is now inflicting as very serious injury on Russian minds. I find it more and more difficult to communicate with my compatriots. There are a lot of educated people in Russia, but this kind of propagandist, xenophobic, and imperialist cliches are quite effective. This injures Russian consciousness. It will be really difficult to restore the unity of the Russian people, now split over the Ukrainian question, for this will need Herculean educational efforts. The virus of jingoism is spreading faster than the awareness of real things. Yet this propaganda will only be absorbed if the level of historical knowledge comes close to zero. Putin’s current rating in fact rests on jingoism and Crimea.”