Russian President Vladimir Putin blended left-wing and right-wing themes with populism to criticize Western governments and media during a Thursday speech at the Valdai International Discussion Club annual meeting in Sochi, Russia.
Accusing Western governments, transnational corporations, and unspecified elites of hypocrisy and inconsistency in their subscription to or avoidance of international institutions and norms, Putin implied that Russia and other non-Western states had been unfairly excluded from geopolitical decision-making. Portraying Russian sovereignty as under threat by ubiquitous anti-Russian sentiment in America and the broader West is a standard narrative of the Russian president and his ideological allies.
Putin accused America and the broader West of excluding Russia from geopolitical decision-making following the collapse of the Soviet Union for the purpose of narrow state interests.
“Coming out of the Cold War, many nations preferred to simply rebuild the world order according to their selfish interests and outlook. They decided to shun their idea of an equal dialogue with other countries and improving the existing international institutions, while instead trying to impose the jurisdiction of their existing institutions onto the rest of the world, trying to make the world follow their rules while insisting on exclusivity for themselves.”
Without specifically mentioning NATO, Putin derided Western placement of “military bases close to Russia’s borders,” mocking the alleged description of such measures as “a defender, a protector of civilization against barbaric hordes.”
Putin also mocked unnamed Western military and political analysts whose work he claimed to have consumed.
“But Russia is not going to invade anyone, that would be just laughable, ridiculous. I’ve been reading Western analytical articles, not only of the people who are in this room today but also of some of the analysts in the United States and otherwise in the West. I find their forecasts and predictions absurd. In Europe there are about five hundred million people, and all those countries are NATO members. The overall population of [NATO’s member states] is roughly six hundred and sixty million, and Russia is only, is a mere one hundred and forty-six million. But still, they’re trying to beat the war drum and inflate the Russian threat.”
Putin criticized unspecified elites with deploying the politics of distraction in order to cast Russia as a bogeyman haunting America.
“It is easier for them to try and distract the public with all this talk of Russian spies and hackers and cyber-crime and attempts to influence American politics. I would like to ask them and ask you, does anybody seriously believe that Russia could somehow influence the choice that the American people are to make. Do you consider the United States to be some kind of a banana republic? The United States is a great nation. Correct me if I’m wrong.”
Drawing on the populist narrative pushed by Donald Trump and his allies of a rigged political system expanding the gap between political elites and those they lord over, Putin said that citizens of “well-developed democracies… don’t have any instruments of directly influencing the government and influencing the process of decision-making.” The policies of “the elites,” he added, “steer away from the interests of the people.”
“Systemic political parties” and “mainstream media” were failing in their attempts to manufacture the public’s consent for unpopular policies, said Putin. “People are showing a very different kind of vote,” he continued, seemingly alluding to the outcome of the United Kingdom’s Brexit/Remain referendum defying predictions from left-wing British media and affiliated pollsters.
Putin cast political developments across Europe as examples of a broader movement of populist uprisings against political ruling elites. Arrogant and disconnected elites, he added, expressed contempt for those they try to control following their failures to produce electoral outcomes they desire.
“People are showing a very different kind of vote, and political parties that used to be considered marginal in the past, being dubbed either far-left or far-right, are now coming to the forefront and actually pushing aside some of the old mainstream parties. At first it was proclaimed to be just a coincidence, just an accident, but when this turned out to be a systemic development, they started claiming that the public just fails to understands its elites and its government, it fails to understand their rationale, and then they started claiming that most often this is a consequence of foreign propaganda; namely Russian propaganda… Average citizens no longer have any confidence in the ruling class.”
Putin mocked accusations of Russian political machinations in the U.S. attempting to influence the outcome of the presidential election, casting the state-run BBC and left-wing Democrat-aligned CNN as instruments of foreign government propaganda.
“I wish we had such an efficient, powerful propaganda machine in Russia, but unfortunately we don’t," said Putin. "We don’t have the powerful media organizations such as CNN or the BBC. So far, we don’t have those capabilities.”
Putin cast the presidential campaigns of both Clinton and Trump as superficial and devoid of meaningful substance. Both campaigns, he added, resembled one another.
“The political agendas have been absolutely devoid of any real meaning. Instead of discussing real issues people start mudslinging, exchanging compromising stories; discussing who pinched whom on what and who sleeps with whom, and that’s just embarrassing. If you look at the political programs of candidates, it looks like they’ve been written based on the same templates. There are hardly any differences you can notice.”
“Since last year’s forum, few things have really changed to the better. The controversies and contradictions related to the redistribution of wealth are only getting aggravated, and these disputes are having a negative effect on humanity’s and international community’s ability to withstand the global challenges. And now, there is already talk of the failure of this global trend of multiculturalism.
The political elites have been trying to impose ideological models that, to me, in my opinion, undermine cultural and national identity, and in some countries make people sacrifice their sovereignty and give it up to the benefit of their sovereign.”
Despite criticizing the status quo of Western-founded international institutions and the current trends of converging global governance, Putin called for more international cooperation to defeat “terrorism.” He neglected to qualify the religious and political dimensions of Islamic terrorism, despite referring to the Islamic mass murder terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice.
While calling for an emphasis on sovereignty, Putin heaped praise on internationalist United Nations which affords legitimacy and expands the influence to Muslim-majority and assorted Third World states.
"Today, the United Nations is the only institution in the world that is unmatched in terms of representation. It is a forum for an equal dialogue. The universal rules of the United Nations are necessary to integrate and include as many countries as possible in the global processes of economics integration and ensure consensus in their action while preserving their national identities. We have no doubt that sovereignty is an essential concept of the entire body of international relations. It is a safeguard of peace and stability on the national as well as on the international level."
Putin accused the American government of supporting terrorists in the Middle East as a tool of its foreign policy, again neglecting to characterize their Islamic ideological foundations. Such an approach, he said, would backfire.
"The extremists are smarter than you. They are more cunning than you. They are stronger than you. Gambling with them or courting with them, you will always end up the loser."
Channeling left-wing activist Bono, Putin called for a redistributionist "Marshall Plan" for the Muslim-majority Middle East.
"We need to address humanitarian, social, and economic issues. We must actually combat extremism and terrorism with action and not with words. It's been acknowledged many times that we can only win that War on Terror by uniting the efforts of all the nations in the world, and we continue offering that to all of our partners in the world.
We also need to go back to the issue of restoring the sovereignty and self-reliance of the Middle East nations. That requires a comprehensive program, another 'Marshall Plan' for this war-torn region, if you will, and Russia is certainly willing to most actively take part in such a project."
Pushing a left-wing vision of global equality between states, Putin called for recalibrating international institutions towards that end.
"It's important to provide an enabling environment for economic growth globally and make sure that the world is no longer split up into winners and losers; perennial winners and perennial losers. The game rules must be such that the poorer countries must have a chance to catch up with those that are considered more developed. We need to provide for evening out the speed and rate of economic development to make sure that the benefits of globalization are accessible and available to all."
Watch Putin's speech as translated by Kremlin-run RT below:
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