Putin reveals he's a man on a mission to 'save' traditional Russia

What did Putin’s televised interview, aired on the 17th April 2014, tell us about the general mood in Russia?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

Well, the general mood was one of celebration. Part of the show was broadcast from Crimea, from Sevastopol, which is a heroes' city of military glory and it means a lot to the Russians. The studio host claimed that of the couple of million calls they got, a lot of it, maybe even the majority was ‘Thank you for Crimea’.

So that was the general mood, and of course Mr Putin basked in the glow of having returned Crimea to Russia.

And there’s not going to be any talk now of backing off. To the Kremlin and to the Russians Crimea is not an issue anymore. It’s part of the Russian Federation, and this Q&A with the President drove that message home.

What was the main political message the Kremlin wanted to spread?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

Well if you listen to the questions a bit further into the programme there were two messages that were not very happy. One was - which foreign minister Mr Lavrov expanded on this morning (April 24th 2014) - that the West, the EU and United States, are responsible for orchestrating a coup d’etat in Kiev. And Mr Putin, in response to a question received, expanded on how the agreement that was reached on February 21, that was endorsed by the EU and by the Ukrainian government and by the opposition, how that agreement was violated on a number of counts. The opposition refused to vacate the Maidan square, whereas the riot police were withdrawn. The opposition refused to form a National Unity government which they promised, and instead formed one dominated by three nationalists, and so on. And of course they ran President Yanukovich out of the country.

So that is the foundation for the Russian attitude now to the government in Kiev as illegitimate.

The other message, which is also somewhat disturbing, is that Mr Putin went to great lengths to drive home that Ukrainians and Russians are one nation separated into two different states. And this is an old point that is made, that Ukraine is not really a state, its just a temporary aberration. Ukrainians and Russians are of the same family and should live in the same state.

What conclusions can we draw regarding Russia’s further actions?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

There is one disturbing conclusion in the sense that many media in the West have accused Mr Putin of wanting to resurrect the Soviet Union. But I think it goes further, or deeper than that in the sense that Mr Putin now gives the impression that he is a man on a mission.

He wants to stop the disintegration of Russia, as he views it, and he wants to be remembered in the history books as: the man who saved Russia. And this is where his notion of New Russia enters the picture. He wants to return the traditional Russian lands to Russia under Moscow control.

And this means that a little part of Ukraine may be left because they don’t really want it, because its Polish dominated and has not been part of the traditional Russia. Whereas the Black Sea coast and those parts of Ukraine will probably now be integrated – maybe not by law, but with factors on the ground – be integrated into the Russian Federation via a new constitution that will have to be written in Kiev for Ukraine that grants wide latitude for areas populated by Russians to have their own relations with Russia.

What may be a slightly optimistic note in all this, is that if Mr Putin’s programme is driven by an ambition to return the traditional Russian lands to Moscow control then the Baltic republics may not be included, because they are not part of the Holy Rus of the traditional Russian land.

So maybe we can see a glimmer of hope that the ambitions for the expansion of the Russian Federation will stop at the borders of Nato. I.e., they will not include the Baltic republics, and definitely not parts of Poland.

But the game to dominate Ukraine is definitely on, and further to that also the heavily Russian-populated the eastern part of Moldovia – known as the breakaway republic of Transnistria – is probably on the agenda for the Russians now because that lies at the end of the ‘corridor’ that Putin has outlined, and that corridor ends in Transnistria where there is already a bit Russian army presence, so that doesn’t look good for Moldova.

(photo credit: dpa)