Most people in the English-speaking parts of the world missed Putin's speech at the Valdai conference in Sochi a few days ago, and, chances are, those of you who have heard of the speech didn't get a chance to read it, and missed its importance. Western media did their best to ignore it or to twist its meaning. Regardless of what you think or don't think of Putin (like the sun and the moon, he does not exist for you to cultivate an opinion) this is probably the most important political speech since Churchill's “Iron Curtain” speech of March 5, 1946.
In this speech, Putin abruptly changed the rules of the game. Previously, the game of international politics was played as follows: politicians made public pronouncements, for the sake of maintaining a pleasant fiction of national sovereignty, but they were strictly for show and had nothing to do with the substance of international politics; in the meantime, they engaged in secret back-room negotiations, in which the actual deals were hammered out. Previously, Putin tried to play this game, expecting only that Russia be treated as an equal. But these hopes have been dashed, and at this conference he declared the game to be over, explicitly violating Western taboo by speaking directly to the people over the heads of elite clans and political leaders.
The Russian blogger chipstone summarized the most salient points from Putin speech as follows:
1. Russia will no longer play games and engage in back-room negotiations over trifles. But Russia is prepared for serious conversations and agreements, if these are conducive to collective security, are based on fairness and take into account the interests of each side.
2. All systems of global collective security now lie in ruins. There are no longer any international security guarantees at all. And the entity that destroyed them has a name: The United States of America.
3. The builders of the New World Order have failed, having built a sand castle. Whether or not a new world order of any sort is to be built is not just Russia's decision, but it is a decision that will not be made without Russia.
4. Russia favors a conservative approach to introducing innovations into the social order, but is not opposed to investigating and discussing such innovations, to see if introducing any of them might be justified.
5. Russia has no intention of going fishing in the murky waters created by America's ever-expanding “empire of chaos,” and has no interest in building a new empire of her own (this is unnecessary; Russia's challenges lie in developing her already vast territory). Neither is Russia willing to act as a savior of the world, as she had in the past.
6. Russia will not attempt to reformat the world in her own image, but neither will she allow anyone to reformat her in their image. Russia will not close herself off from the world, but anyone who tries to close her off from the world will be sure to reap a whirlwind.
7. Russia does not wish for the chaos to spread, does not want war, and has no intention of starting one. However, today Russia sees the outbreak of global war as almost inevitable, is prepared for it, and is continuing to prepare for it. Russia does not war—nor does she fear it.
8. Russia does not intend to take an active role in thwarting those who are still attempting to construct their New World Order - until their efforts start to impinge on Russia's key interests. Russia would prefer to stand by and watch them give themselves as many lumps as their poor heads can take. But those who manage to drag Russia into this process, through disregard for her interests, will be taught the true meaning of pain.
9. In her external, and, even more so, internal politics, Russia's power will rely not on the elites and their back-room dealing, but on the will of the people.
To these nine points I would like to add a tenth:
10. There is still a chance to construct a new world order that will avoid a world war. This new world order must of necessity include the United States—but can only do so on the same terms as everyone else: subject to international law and international agreements; refraining from all unilateral action; in full respect of the sovereignty of other nations.
To sum it all up:
play-time is over. Children, put away your toys. Now is the time for the adults to make decisions. Russia is ready for this; is the world?
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Full text of Vladimir Putin’s speech and a question and answer session at the final plenary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club’s XI session in Sochi on 24 October 2014 can be found here