Putin’s Russian World

At the annual conference of Russian Federation ambassadors and permanent representatives on July 1 Putin delivered an address “on protecting Russia’s national interests and strengthening the foundations and principles of international relations.”

This year, prompted by events in Ukraine that are being deliberately engineered by Russia itself, Putin’s speech contained some unambiguous pointers to the future direction of Russian foreign policy and military strategy, which are now impelled by considerations of what the propaganda calls “national interest” and “rights to protective intrusion”. From the English translation posted on the official website:

In Ukraine, as you may have seen, at threat were our compatriots, Russian people and people of other nationalities, their language, history, culture and legal rights, guaranteed, by the way, by European conventions. When I speak of Russians and Russian-speaking citizens I am referring to those people who consider themselves part of the broad Russian community, they may not necessarily be ethnic Russians, but they consider themselves Russian people.

What did our partners expect from us as the developments in Ukraine unfolded? We clearly had no right to abandon the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol to the mercy of nationalist and radical militants; we could not allow our access to the Black Sea to be significantly limited; we could not allow NATO forces to eventually come to the land of Crimea and Sevastopol, the land of Russian military glory, and cardinally change the balance of forces in the Black Sea area. This would mean giving up practically everything that Russia had fought for since the times of Peter the Great, or maybe even earlier – historians should know.

I would like to make it clear to all: this country will continue to actively defend the rights of Russians, our compatriots abroad, using the entire range of available means – from political and economic to operations under international humanitarian law and the right of self-defence.

It should be noted that in the translation designed for foreign consumption the phrase “Russian world” (русский мир), with its quasi-imperial overtones, is rendered by the more innocuous term “Russian community”. As Vladimir Socor points out in a recent article for EDM, the “right of self-defence” “translates into Russia’s paramilitary intervention in Ukraine’s east. Moscow rejects all proposals to disarm its proxy forces there, or evacuate them back to Russia, or disavow them, at least verbally”. Socor continues:

This is the boldest application to date of Putin’s concept of compatriots’ “right to self-defence.” Moscow acts as if this is an inherent right in principle and an already acquired right in Ukraine’s east.

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