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The Putin Dispatch

12 December 2012 

By Aleksandr Podrabinek 


As expected, the address by Vladimir Putin, who considers himself President of Russia, to the Federal Assembly, which considers itself to be the Russian Parliament, was a routine, ritual display. Vladimir Putin stood for one and a half hours between two enormous banners: the Russian flag and presidential standard, and delivered words that amounted to an assortment of the usual platitudes, empty promises and solemn hopes.

Mr Putin began his speech with assertions that much had been accomplished in the first 12 years of the new century. It is worth noting that his speech began at 12 o'clock on the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012. This has been widely discussed over the last few days. It would seem that the Kremlin's spin doctors attach great importance to numerology.

Having sung his own praises, Putin moved on to external threats. Increased tensions worldwide should give Russia cause for concern. Russia, said Putin, "must augment its geopolitical relevance". True patriotism and a revival of public morals are bound to help her in this respect. To prove his case, he invoked the names of Lev Gumilev and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. And just like that, untroubled by doubts, he bemoaned the fact that over the last 15-20 years we have lost our moral compass: by casting off ideological stereotypes we have, it turns out, thrown the baby out with the bath water.

Much of Putin's speech was devoted to the child we have thrown out, that is, patriotism and traditional values. He spoke of a "lack of a spiritual braces", of the need to resurrect the Preobrazhensky and Semenovsky regiments, and the entire historical inheritance of thousand-year-old Russia. In the absence of clear horizons, Mr. Putin must increasingly to be guided by a vague account of history.

The assembly applauded uncontrollably. They applauded with particular gusto at parts they could not possibly have approved of, when Putin talked about overseas investments and property belonging to government officials. Every audience member wanted to show that Putin was not talking about them, and so clapped louder than everyone else! But Putin did not fall for it; he even interrupted the applause when he started talking about it: "hold your applause – you may not like what I say". Everyone clapped very loudly and earnestly all the same.

But the faces in the hall were depressingly vacant. Now and then, among these waxworks the television camera would seize on a sentient human face and then linger on it for a disproportionately long time. You can understand the TV crew; the point is to show the public, but not so that they are sickened by it.

Putin devoted a great deal of time to social issues. He simply drowned in social promises and predictions. This part of his address most closely resembled a speech by Ostap Bender in Vasuki, in which the great Grand Master promised to turn a provincial backwater into the future capital of the chess world.

Very little was said of any interest. It is, perhaps, worth noting the rather unusual promise not to allow the existence in Russia of self-contained national enclaves with their own separate laws. If that is not about Chechnya, then what?

Putin called for simplifying the process of acquiring citizenship for our compatriots abroad and increased penalties for illegal immigration.

The proposal to consider a return to the mixed majority-proportional system of elections to the State Duma and even a possible return to electoral blocs was probably a bone he threw to society. Nevertheless, not a single word was said either on fair elections, or on the demands of the opposition. Only once, probably with the opposition in mind, did Mr Putin angrily note that those who receive funding from abroad cannot be politicians in Russia. So he is actually for political competition, which is good for the country; for democracy, albeit our, Russian, democracy; and he is for everything good and against everything bad.

What are the speeches of politicians worth - especially of those who have dishonestly manoeuvred their way into presidential seats and suffer chronically from a lack of personal legitimacy? They are worthless. One today, another tomorrow. He cancelled elections to the Federation Council, then he reinstated them. He did away with election blocs, then he brought in election blocs. Man is master of his own words; he can give, and he can take away. The main thing is that the hall applauded fervently, and at the end everyone stood up as one to sing Stalin's national anthem. Everyone applauded, and everyone stood up. Even the 'oppositionist' Ilya Ponomarev.

Granted, they played the anthem without the lyrics, just the music. And for that we are grateful.