Saturday, April 24, 2021

Putin’s Message was What He Didn’t Say, Shaburov Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 21 – Vladimir Putin’s message to the Federal Assembly was not only overshadowed by the Navalny protests but also was a departure from his earlier speeches: What mattered was not what he actually said but what many expected the Kremlin leader to address but that he passed over in silence, Aleksey Shaburov says.

            In the past, Putin has used such addresses to deliver “fateful” messages about where he plans to take the country, but this time around, there were no such messages delivered directly. Instead, the Yekaterinburg commentator says, Putin delivered them by his silences (

            Given that, the Politsovet editor continues, one must direct one’s attention “not to what the president said but to what he remained silent about.”

            “The main social theme absent in the message was that of pensions and pensioners,” something one would have expected Putin to discuss given anger about this issue among those who have been his political base. There are several reasons that may explain Putin’s failure to discuss these things.

            On the one hand, he may simply have “nothing to say” about them and doesn’t want to highlight that by referring to the issues at all. But on the other, the Kremlin may have decided to rely on other social groups in the upcoming elections, calculating that the pensioners have nowhere to go or will vote Putin’s way out of habit.

            Also lacking in the speech was any discussion of an economic breakthrough. Putin did discuss the economy but almost exclusively in terms of recovery from the pandemic-induced crisis. In contrast to earlier speeches, he did not suggest there was any plan for a new upsurge in growth beyond that – and that is likely the case.

            Especially striking was the lack of any statement in support of United Russia. Instead, Putin talked about that group exclusively together with the three other parliamentary parties which he suggested are collectively responsible for ensuring the stability of the Russian government and political system.

            That suggests that the Kremlin leader may not care as much as many have assumed in how many seats United Russia has as long as he can maintain a parliament consisting of the four “systemic” parties, Shaburov argues. It does seem clear that for him now, all of them rather than just United Russia are the representatives of “the Putin majority.”

            Despite the anniversary of Gagarin’s flight, Putin also did not talk about flights into space and Russia’s new rockets. “The word ‘cosmos’ did not appear even once in the message; the theme thus simply hung in the air.” According to Shaburov, this is likely because Putin is far more interested in other kinds of rockets.

            But what was most striking was the absence of any discussion of Ukraine given the build up in Russian forces near the border. In this case, too, Putin’s silence may say more than any words he could have offered, the Yekaterinburg analyst continues.

            He did not meet the expectations of some that he would recognize the DNR and LNR or absorb them into Russia and he referred to Crimea only in terms of what happened in 2014 and together with other regions and republics.

            The message of his silence on this point is clear, Shaburov says. “Putin obviouisly does not want to cut off the last avenues for dialogue with the US” and has apparently come to recognize that “foreign policy rhetoric” no longer as useful for “domestic political goals” as it once was.

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