By Arab News
By Maria Dubovikova*
Vladimir Putin has given his annual speech to the Federation Council, surprisingly arranging it not in the Kremlin but at Moscow’s Central Exhibition Hall. In his speech, he addressed numerous vital aspects of life in Russia, setting the goals and priorities for the upcoming years.
Those principles included the strengthening of democratic institutions; development and investment in Russia’s far east and its infrastructure; improving work and life conditions to stop the brain drain and attract talent from abroad; and investing in and developing new technologies.
The audience was made to wait for Putin’s take on Russia’s international agenda, with many surprised at how much was said regarding domestic affairs. The president then finally proceeded with his foreign agenda, and the reason why the event was arranged in the Central Exhibition Hall became obvious: Kremlin’s hall does not have the same capacity for presentations.
“They did not listen to us. So listen to us now,” he said, addressing the West. This phrase inaugurated Russia’s new way of acting: It is fed up with oppression and humiliation, and it will not repeat old mantras that the US threatens Russia’s security, violates existing bilateral agreements, spreads NATO troops to Russia’s borders and keeps nuclear arsenals in Europe. Those polite indications on the numerous violations have not worked, so Russia is changing the discourse. It does not care anymore what the West has and what it does, instead the West should care about what Russia has. It is a kind of diplomacy on the one hand, and the launch of arms race 2.0 on the other, taking into account who sits in the White House.
Putin unveiled a range of ballistic missiles and weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads that could reach anywhere in the world without being intercepted. However, more important was what the Russian president, who showed a video on a huge screen in the hall including a review of the missiles, said: That Russia would consider any nuclear attack on its allies an attack on Moscow and would respond without hesitation. This is the first time that Putin has appeared defiant, threatening and reinforcing his threats with modern weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, since taking power.
In all my articles regarding the West’s approaches toward Russia, I have pointed out how they are generally counterproductive. You can beat a bear until a certain moment, then it stops feeling pain and becomes unstoppable. So here we go. “You’d better talk,” instead of beating. Meanwhile, the risks of a nuclear clash are extremely high — not because of a chance that Russia will use its new weapons (it will not, unless it is targeted), but because in Washington there are too many hawkish hotheads. Moreover, for the US, it is much cheaper to launch a pre-emptive strike than to build elaborate new defense systems. The option to launch talks and discuss new deals doesn’t seem to be on the table in the US these days.
The key message of the speech — Russia is no longer afraid — was, despite all expectations, first addressed to the citizens. It was the most powerful message Putin could deliver just 18 days before the first round of presidential elections. But it is certain as well that this message was addressed to the US and to the West in general.
The intelligence reports of last month’s Munich Scurity Conference painted a gloomy picture of the growing US-Russian conflict in three key theaters — North Korea, Iran and Syria — and the reckless Washington policies that are taking the world to the brink. The speech was given extra meaning as Russian Security Council official Gen. Alexander Venediktov revealed that there were 20 US military bases in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces in north-west Syria.
Russia fears attacks by armed extremist groups targeting its naval base in Tartus and air base in Hmeimim. The first warning in this regard was an attempted attack by an unmanned drone, which targeted the latter with advanced missiles in January.
President Donald Trump is fuelling fires of tension around the world, and is expected to cancel the nuclear agreement with Iran in the next few months, just as the US cancelled the missile treaty with Russia in 2001.
Russia has regained most of its strength and has become a superpower again. The world has to listen to Moscow. Putin’s strong, unprecedented speech reflects his self-confidence, which is built on a highly developed military capability. This constitutes the inauguration of a new stage of global leadership, proving that Russia is no longer the country that was ruled by Gorbachev, the Perestroika man. Neither is it the country of Yeltsin, who broke up the Soviet Union for the sake of the West. Russia today is not the same nation that approved the invasion of Iraq in 1991.
This is a new Russia, and sanctions, international pressure and previous Western actions have made it what it is today.
*Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme