In the first major war fought on the world’s screens, Vladimir Putin’s speech on Wednesday has already assumed great historical value. It is an unadulterated dive into the Russian president’s mind. It explains the ease with which he led his country into such a dangerous adventure, it proclaims his intention to invest further in division and terrorism at home in order to prevent any questioning of his policies and to strengthen his position.
“The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and simply spit them out like a fly that accidentally flew into their mouths,” Putin declared, taking aim at the “Fifth Column” of Russians who are inspired by the West. “I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to respond to any challenges,” he added.
Putin presented the invasion of Ukraine and the global reaction to it as an existential issue. “There is only one goal,” he charged. “The destruction of Russia.” And so, he declares war on any Russian who might disagree with his choices, with his language, even (with “war” being replaced by “special military operation”). This method is employed whenever a regime feels threatened; it marshals the forces of the majority against a selected minority, seeking an easy victory and to make clear that any dissident is not a “true patriot” but is rather a threat that must be extinguished. We do not need to go far for examples: We saw this in every civil war, we see it in Turkey today.
Putin, though, is in a category of his own. In the two decades that he has controlled Russia, he has captured all the state institutions, he has crushed or jailed every voice that questioned him, he controls the news media. An absolute ruler with a nuclear arsenal, no human being has wielded such power. And instead of leading his talented nation toward a bright future, he pulls it toward darkness. Only the Russian people can save themselves, and us, from this danger.