Putin is asking the West to surrender Ukraine, international law, and its core values and principles

Russian President Vladimir Putin at Valdai Discussion Forum, 27 October 2022. Screenshot

Russo-Ukrainian war 2022

President Putin’s speech at the Valdai International Discussion Club meeting on 27 October was as could be expected full of lies, disinformation, and propaganda. He remained defiant despite continuous setbacks on both the battlefield and in the international sphere, upholding his key strategic messaging: Russia is – despite its aggressions and horrendous atrocities – the victim. According to President Putin, however, this is a fate Russia shares with the rest of the non-Western world.

The president used the speech to demonize the West in an attempt to rally the world to join it in its fight against the “evil empire.” While he did not outright ask for them to join Russia’s war against the USA and Europe, he outlined what he sees as Western strategic aims and objectives and the consequences of not standing up to them.

The “West” – a term that for different reasons remains ambiguous – is allegedly seeking world dominance (culturally, economically, politically, and militarily). He argued that those who do not bend to its aspiration of global supremacy will be destroyed and wiped off the political map.

Due to “the decaying creative potential of the West” it “desires to restrain and block the free development of other civilizations.” “They take over markets and resources, and countries lose their technological and scientific potential. This is not progress; it is enslavement and reducing economies to primitive levels, he argued.

Putin is describing the West as aggressive, intolerant, and neocolonial racist:

“Their goal is clear – to establish the unconditional dominance of the West in the global economy and politics. To do that, the West put at its service the entire planet’s natural and financial resources, as well as all intellectual, human, and economic capabilities, while alleging it was a natural feature of the so-called new global interdependence.” “This manner has been taking shape since colonial times, as if everyone were second-rate, while they were exceptional.”

In his words, “alternative opinion is declared subversive propaganda and a threat to democracy. For many years, Western ideologists and politicians have been telling the world there was no alternative to democracy. […]”

The message is: Russia is fighting Western global dominance. Join us, or suffer the consequences of its efforts to colonize and enslave nations.

He portrayed the ongoing war in Ukraine as evidence of the Western quest for global dominance. He mirrored Russian aggressions and atrocities upon the US and Europe.

  • The West is to blame (for a war Russia started on 20 February 2014) and has morphed it into a major system-wide crisis (being a part of the Russian use of both military and non-military means to destabilize countries (hybrid war).
  • Putin claims that “global power is exactly what the so-called West has at stake” (ignoring the fact that the USA is a global power, while Russia is waging war to achieve the status).
  • The West allegedly “denies the sovereignty of countries and peoples, their identity and uniqueness, and tramples upon other states’ interests” (argues a president that denies the existence of both Ukraine and Belarus as both nations and sovereign countries).

Putin keeps rejecting Ukrainian sovereignty in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with serious negotiations – ISW

  • He alleged that Russia in December 2021 proposed to build collective confidence and a collective security system (mirroring both NATO and the EU’s strategy since the end of the cold war while refraining from mentioning that the “ultimatum” came after 8 years of Hybrid War against Ukraine and the West).
  • In the same manner as the US, NATO, and the EU have repeatedly stressed that they pose no threat to Russia, Putin argued that Russia has never considered and does not consider itself an enemy of the West (while it wages hybrid war, submits ultimatums, starts a full-scale war in Europe, weaponizes information, energy, and food, and conducts nuclear blackmail).
  • Being challenged over its legal right as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, he suggests that “it may be worth revising the structure of the United Nations, including its Security Council, to better reflect the world’s diversity. After all, much more will depend on Asia, Africa, and Latin America in tomorrow’s world.”

The speech highlights a point I have stressed since 2014: Ukraine is only an object and not the strategic aim of the Hybrid War. It is a conflict between Russia and the West over the world order, and the conflicting ideas of the authoritarian “Russian World” and the Western liberal democracies. A Russian victory in Ukraine is, however, a prerequisite for its global ambitions.

Not only is the West demonized and portrayed as the aggressor, but Ukraine is hardly mentioned in the speech itself. When mentioned, it is described as a victim of the West.

This narrative is very much in line with its strategic communications since February this year. It has repeatedly claimed that the West is waging an information war, economic war, war of proxy, and total war against Russia. The sanctions are seen as an act of aggression.

It is also in line with its actions. Having waged a hybrid war against the West itself for years, it delivered an ultimatum to both the US and the Alliance in December 2021. Russia is increasingly reverting to nuclear blackmail going beyond the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons. It also includes the false claims about a Ukrainian “dirty bomb” and the US/Ukrainian intended use of biological weapons, as well as its warfighting around Ukraine’s nuclear power plants (NPP) and its highly irresponsible actions around the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Russia is also suspected of sabotage against subsea cables and pipelines in several regions, triggering concerns for the integrity of the wider Western energy and economic infrastructure.

To continue to refer to the war as just a war between Russia and Ukraine undermines Western credibility. It is already a broader confrontation between Russia and NATO. Even the EU has acknowledged the threat.

President Putin stressed that the crisis has taken on a global dimension that impacts everyone. He argued that “we are in for probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and at the same time most important decade since the end of World War II.”

His speech highlighted that Russia is fighting the West. It is challenging the model of western liberal democracy, universal rights, and international law. Despite having signed up for many of them, Putin argued that “we have no idea whatsoever who made these rules up, what these rules are based on, or what is contained inside these rules.”

The speech aims to fuel the fear that is already induced in key decision and policymakers, as well as the western populations. He describes a conflict with global impact aggravating the existing global challenges connected to climate, biodiversity, hunger, and poverty.

Crucially, he is indirectly calling for Asia, Africa, South and Latin America, and the Middle East to “join” Russia in its fight against “Western global dominance.” He claims that “an overwhelming majority of the international community is demanding democracy in international affairs and rejecting all forms of an authoritarian dictate by individual countries or groups of countries.”

In the speech, President Putin is raising the stakes, arguing for “the power of common sense” and that “the West will have to start a dialogue on an equal footing about a common future for us all.”

“Humankind is at a fork in the road: either keep accumulating problems and eventually get crushed under their weight, or work together to find solutions – even imperfect ones, as long as they work – that can make our world a more stable and safer place,” Putin said.

Putin is not asking Ukraine to surrender. He is asking the West to surrender Ukraine, international law, and its core values and principles.

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