Sadly there are no competition awards to be made after Putin's Speech - none of us really reckoned on nothing much to say, did we? Mostly, people everywhere figured either ...
(a) escalation (declaration of war / mass mobilisation / small nuke somewhere / big distraction-stunt); or
(b) declaration of victory (got what we want / now - what we have, we hold)
Nobody really expected "I am a tired old man / weather's a bit cold & overcast for the time of year, pity about the flypast / WW2 was great / all rather difficult now / oh well, soldier on, I suppose / safe journey home, mind the tanks round the corner, they have a habit of breaking down / let me have that blanket".
|I need this blanket more than you, Grandma|
So: what does it betoken?
- he doesn't fancy escalation. You could see why: maybe the west has more sanctions up its sleeve; he doesn't have the military resources for anything much on the battlefield in the near term; mobilisation (& declaration of war) would be a very two-edged sword - potentially deeply unpopular where it matters, for not much return in the short run beyond the legal freedom to send conscripts into the battle. Also, putting aside the morale-boosting double-down effect of any spectacular escalation, in military terms he might not need it - see part 2.
- he doesn't have a victory worthy of the name. Russians are patriotic, and fairly-much whipped into line right now to swallow (or at least pretend) quite a lot; but they ain't stupid. And calling a 'victorious halt' right now would come with all manner of practical problems, not least that they are positively retreating on the Kharkiv front and may find holding the Donbas line really difficult - maybe even Kherson, which is really important for them (water supply to Crimea). So: no point, even, in that rehearsed 'Z' flypast: no triumphalism whatsoever**.
- status quo is priced in for his audiences. The home audience is more-or-less conditioned for the long haul - at least in their current frame of mind, before sanctions really hit (which they will: Russian industry is grinding rapidly to a humiliating halt). The RoW can hardly think any worse of him; and China specifically was utterly disgusted at a very early stage - only a lightning victory at low (material) cost would have been good enough to impress them and give them encouragement for their own heartfelt designs on Taiwan.
- there is at least the possibility something helpful turns up. Top of his list must be the EU splitting badly as Germany refuses (i) to stop buying the gas; (ii) to pay for the pain Poland et al are suffering; and the populace as a whole tires of massive stagflation - we were happy enough to send weapons, but we never figured on 20% inflation ... Yes, folks, there's every possibility the Russian public has more tolerance for hardship than we do. (I'm being flippant here, of course; they absolutely do, by the bucketload.)
- he's run out of ideas - if not his own, then anyone else's. Somebody could have come up with something, by way of an imaginative, low-cost surprise / fillip / morale-booster. I am always banging on about how the point of being in power is that you always have vast scope to take the initiative, limited only by the shortcomings of your own imagination. Even Saddam Hussein could be credited with understanding that: he pulled several surprises on us in 1991, not to mention the big one in 1990. There's never been any indication Putin has any imagination himself; but in a land of avid chess players, there must be someone around him who does. Mustn't there? No, apparently not.
What's that mission? More at the weekend in part 2.
** For my money, the scrapping of the flypast is an impressively logical & decisive reinforcement of his 'nope, comrades - no victory yet' posture. Somebody is still thinking coherently in there (if not imaginatively), and Putin is listening - to them, at least.
PS: à propos of our speech-drafting compo, at least poor little troll-anon's worst fears were not realised ... ["My fear is a NATO-sponsored terrorist attack, either on the parade or its spectators. A 9/11 style spectacle. It's unlikely the US can let this pass without doing something."] Or was it a Kev-spoof ..?