What Putin Said in His Speech to the Federal Assembly

February 22, 2023
On 21 February, 2023 Russia`s President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address to Russia’s Federal Assembly.

It is also remarkable that the event was accompanied by a campaign in Russian media, with Russian news channels putting a countdown to the speech on their broadcasts.

The address can be seen as a compilation of several  categories of propaganda narratives.

The "causes" of the "special military operation"

One of the biggest narratives present in Putin's speech was devoted to the "causes of the special military operation in Ukraine." It has been almost a year since Russia began its full-scale war against Ukraine under the guise of "denazification, demilitarization, and protecting people in Donbas" (in reality replacing Ukraine's elected government, destroying its military, and occupying the entirety of Ukraine's Donbas), and Russia has not come close to achieving any of these objectives.

Thus, Putin sought to underscore how important it is for Russia to stay the course in light of its ongoing criminal and failing war effort by making emotional appeals about "the Kyiv regime's genocide in Donbas" and Donbas's brave fight for its independence and native language.". Putin also lied about how Ukraine was preparing "attack Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea," and sought to oblige Russians to support their country's aggression by invoking the sanctified mythology of World War II.

Accusing the West of aggression towards Russia

Putin also sought to put the blame for Russia's decision to launch its savagery against Ukraine squarely on the West.

He accused the West of "lying to Russia with fake safety guarantees" and of "preparing for war with Russia." In addition to rambling about how the West supplied weapons, trained officers of nationalist battalions, and built biological laboratories, Putin concluded his speech by announcing that Russia was suspending its participation in the so-called New START agreement (a treaty with the United States providing for the reduction and monitoring of the US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons arsenals) and was preparing to resume nuclear weapons testing in order "to respond to the USA and NATO."

Putin argued that "Russia stands for a world without division into so-called civilized countries and all the rest, for partnership without any exceptionalism, especially aggressive exceptionalism," ironically proclaiming this while Russia is waging genocidal war against Ukraine, rejecting Ukraine's right to independence, threatening the world with nuclear war, and even insisting upon the "superiority of the Russian world."

Ukraine as a "failed neo-Nazi state"

Putin also sought to portray Ukraine as a "failed state." Putin avoided even recognizing the existence of the country Russia invaded  by  the referring to Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts as "historically Russian territories," speaking of Ukraine's democratically-elected government as "the Kyiv regime," describing the country's existence as "a Western anti-Russian project," and even refusing to utter the word "Ukraine."

Putin harkened back to the pseudo-historical thesis he argued in a July 2021 essay that the idea of Ukrainian nationhood was conjured up by Ukraine in Austria-Hungary and Poland as a weapon to use against Russia, and referred to Ukraine's 2014 Revolution of Dignity as an "armed coup sponsored by the West." He fundamentally rejected Ukraine`s independence and portrayed it to be an "inevitable part of Russia."

Putin further sought to sanctify Russia's aggression with World War II references by accusing the Ukrainian Armed Forces of fictional "Nazism" with the names and symbols of some of its battalions. His assertion that Russia is not fighting with Ukrainians, but rather only with the "Kyiv regime" appears patently absurd as the  Russian military continues to torture and kill civilians, kidnap people who see themselves as part of the Ukrainian nation, and systematically desecrate and destroy  any signs of Ukrainian identity in the occupied territories. This can be seen as another attempt to create a fictional reality where people in Ukraine have no agency and are actually merely confused Russians.

Culture war rhetoric

Putin sought to convince Russians that their country's aggression against Ukraine is a holy defense of Russia's traditions and virtue against Western evil and decadence. He incited fears about the West's supposed attempts to destroy "family values and cultural and national identity." He fearmongered about the West trying to annihilate "traditional values" and spread "LGBTQ propaganda," and portrayed Russia as the world's strongest bastion protecting real virtue.

Ineffectiveness of anti-Russian sanctions

Lastly, Putin tried to assure his audience about the "ineffectiveness of the anti-Russian sanctions."

In this respect, Putin accused the West of trying "to make people in Russia suffer," but insisted that Russia was instead thriving economically and opening up "new possibilities for businesses." It is essential to note Putin's remark about Russia's record grain harvest "reflecting the "success of Russian agricultural industry."

However, this shows clear recognition of Russia's criminal looting, as this "record harvest" was built on the theft of Ukrainian grain and its transportation to Russia and Russian-controlled territory.

The deeply Orwellian nature of Putin's address is best encapsulated by his claim that "they [the West] began this war, but we have used and will keep using our power to stop it." It has been almost a year since Putin launched the  full-scale invasion, in which Russia has occupied Ukraine's territories, killed its civilians, destroyed its infrastructure, and sought to erase everything  connected to Ukrainian culture, language, and identity.

However, Russia's president sought to legitimize all his country's war crimes by appealing to a false Russian right to "historical territories" and by continuing to talk about his bumbling and wounded country as appealing to the idea of "historically Russian territories" and keeps talking about "invincible and powerful" in the face of the clear reality otherwise.

Analyst and Journalist at UkraineWorld