A symbolic date for a speech that was scrutinized by media around the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin is to deliver his state of the nation address on Tuesday (February 21), three days before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While February 21 marks Moscow’s official recognition of the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk a year ago, the timing leaves little doubt about the main theme of the president’s address. “On February 21, the President of the Russian Federation will address the Federal Assembly,” which brings together the two chambers of the Russian Parliament, and address “the current situation,” particularly the Russian military intervention in Ukraine and the social-economy in Russia , the spokesman for the Russian Council Presidency, Dmitry Peskov, had already told the press. “The war affects our lives in one way or another. It affects life on the mainland. So of course we should expect the President to pay a lot of attention to it,” he said, repeating himself on Monday, according to the Russian newspaper Pravda.
On the eve of the speech, the hypotheses multiply, although nothing has been officially filtered on the content of the remarks that the Russian leader will make. Will Vladimir Putin announce a new Russian offensive in Ukraine? Will he call for a new mobilization or new economic measures to support the war effort? For Jeff Hawn, a specialist on Russian military issues and an external advisor to the New Lines Institute, an American center for geopolitical research, the main thing for the Russian president to do is to reach out to the international community in a roundabout way.
France 24: What does this State of the Union address traditionally consist of? ?
Jeff Hawn: The State of the Union address has been held in Russia every year since 1994. The Russian head of state presents the parliamentarians with a summary of the past year and outlines the country’s main strategic directions for the coming year. But it is by no means about opening a space for debate: this speech is very often flat, without substance and only serves to officially formulate political decisions already taken.
In addition, the place where the speech will be held shows that for Vladimir Putin it is primarily a communication operation. The Russian head of state is speaking in the Gostiny Dvor congress center in Moscow, not in the Kremlin or in the Duma (the Russian parliament, editor’s note).
This is the first State of the Union address since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. What can we expect? ?
Normally, not much can be expected from this speaking engagement. But this year, if the situation on the ground is volatile and the Russian military is struggling, it could give us clues as to how Vladimir Putin intends to approach the coming months.
In my opinion, this speech is primarily addressed to the international community and in particular to Western countries. Vladimir Putin knows that his words are being heard and shared by media around the world. This therefore provides him with a perfect platform to list his most important conditions for a ceasefire or an end to the war with Ukraine. The surprise presence of Joe Biden in Kiev on Monday can certainly change the words of the Russian leader at the last moment.
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However, the spokesman for the Russian Council Presidency, Dmitry Peskov, assures that “the socio-economic situation in Russia” will also be addressed. ?
In a second step, yes, the President will certainly address the citizens. An outcry is always a bit worrying, even if Vladimir Putin managed to keep control of the population despite the war.
But the fact of the matter is that while he is making this speech, Russia has lost many lives, a lot of military equipment, and has no real victory to boast of. Vladimir Putin will therefore certainly want to justify the continuation of his “special operation”. Surely, true to his rhetoric, he will explain that “the people must continue to make many sacrifices” because Russia is “captive by Western countries”, “alone against the whole West”, “besieged by the West”.
The following day, Wednesday, a rally concert will be organized at the Luzhniki Stadium, the Olympic Stadium in Moscow. A wish for Vladimir Putin to prove his popularity ?
We don’t know much about this event, but it has strong symbolic meaning [ce stade est celui où l’annexion de la Crimée avait été célébrée, NDLR]. This will surely be an opportunity for a new public demonstration of the political elites’ “loyalty” to the Russian leader and for the latter to reassert his control over political life.
Despite everything, behind all this ceremony hides the fragility of the situation in which Vladimir Putin finds himself. Because this communication operation ultimately aims to cover up a precarious situation on Ukrainian soil.