Putin’s Sound and Fury
Although Vladimir Putin's annual state-of-the-union addresses are always occasions for bluster and saber-rattling, this year's over-the-top display fell into a category of its own. Fortunately, it is now obvious that the Russian president's words signify nothing.
WARSAW – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent annual address on the state of his country was so ostentatiously threatening as to sound reassuring. Not only did he forbid the West from crossing red lines; he announced that he himself would determine where those lines are. He did not specify whether he would inform anyone else – as if it had always been the Creator, not politicians, marking red lines in the past.
He seemingly played chicken with himself – certainly not with the chronically listless West. Few will believe Putin when he suggests that Russia is threatened by the might of the European Union, which cannot even deal with Hungary. The same goes even for the United States. Though President Joe Biden’s administration has just imposed new sanctions on Russia, these appear to be even more symbolic than those levied by Donald Trump – the president elected with Russian help. With the new sanctions, the Russian ruble depreciated for two days but then shot up in value.
Not even Russians will find Putin’s threats compelling. That doesn’t mean they will rush to depose him (such moves have always meant trouble, usually resulting in an even worse regime). But there is little indication that Russians will respond as they did after the annexation of Crimea, when Putin’s popularity shot up.