Putin’s Valdai Speech, What You Need to Know – Ted Snider 10/12/23

Source: Antiwar.com

On October 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the plenary session of the Valdai International Discussion Club near Sochi, Russia. The session was attended by scholars and diplomats from forty-two countries. Putin spoke for half an hour and then answered questions for about three hours. Several interesting things were said.

In western discourse it is always said that Russia started an unprovoked war in Ukraine. There has been much discussion – though not in the mainstream media nor in statements issued by western governments – about whether the war was unprovoked. But there has been little discussion about whether Russia started it.

Putin claimed that Russia’s “special military operation” did not start the war in Ukraine but, rather, was designed to stop it. “I have said many times that it was not us who started the so-called ‘war in Ukraine,’” Putin said. “On the contrary, we are trying to end it.”

The war started, according to Putin, when the United States “orchestrated a coup in Kiev in 2014.” Putin said that the U.S. “provoked the Ukraine crisis by supporting the coup in Ukraine in 2014. They could not fail to understand that this was a red line, we have said this a thousand times. They never listened.”

After the coup, the new government in Kiev “intimidate[d]” the ethnic Russian populations of Crimea and the Donbas, prohibited them from speaking “their native language,” and threatened them “with ethnic cleansing.” It was Kiev, and not Russia, “who tried to force Donbass to obey by shelling and bombing.” The new government in Kiev bombed the region “for nine years, shooting and using tanks. That was a war, a real war unleashed against Donbass.”

The war started, not a year and a half ago, according to Putin’s chronology. Instead, “This war, the one that the regime sitting in Kiev started with the vigorous and direct support from the West, has been going on for more than nine years, and Russia’s special military operation is aimed at stopping it.”

With the end of the Cold War, there was a window of opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the previous destructive era. There was an opportunity to move from “military and ideological” blocs to collective solutions. First Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, and then Russia, sought a new international order that transcended blocs. Putin even recalled “a moment when I simply suggested: perhaps we should also join NATO?”

But Putin says that Russia’s “interest in constructive interaction was misunderstood, was seen as obedience, as an agreement that the new world order would be created by those who declared themselves the winners in the Cold War. It was seen as an admission that Russia was ready to follow in others’ wake and not to be guided by our own national interests but by somebody else’s interests.”

American “arrogance” attempted to establish a global “hegemony” over a world “too complicated and diverse to be subjected to one system.” This arrogance led to two things. The first was “endless expansion” by the political West. “NATO expansion has been pursued for decades.”

Putin reminded his audience that Russia was “promised verbally” about NATO “non-expansion to the east.” He then complained, “Yes, we were promised everything verbally, and our American partners do not deny this, and then they ask: where is this documented? There is no document. And that was it, goodbye. Did we promise? It looks like we did, but it was worth nothing.”

Eventually, this broken promise led to NATO expansion creeping up to Ukraine and right up against Russia’s borders. “Among the ways the crisis in Ukraine was provoked,” Putin said, “was the irrepressible desire of Western countries, especially the United States, to expand NATO to the borders of the Russian Federation.”

“After all,” Putin pointed out, NATO “is not only a political bloc, it is a military and political bloc, and the approach of its infrastructure is fraught with a grave threat to us.” He then added, “NATO’s expansion right up to our borders is threatening our security. This is a massive challenge to the Russian Federation’s security.”

To attain its hegemonic goal, it was necessary for the United States to “to replace international law with a “rules-based order.” But unlike the international law of the charter international system that is based on the United Nations, “It is not clear what rules these are and who invented them.” In the service of Americna hegemony, the U.S. “arbitrarily set[s] these rules.”

In a recent essay, professor of international law John Dugard has said that it is neither clear what the rules of the rules-based order are nor “the method for their creation,” and has offered as a possible explanation of the rules based order that it is “international law as interpreted by the United States to accord with its national interests,” meaning whatever the U.S. needs it to mean in any given situation. He suggests that the United States tries “to impose the concept of a rules-based world order on the international community. They use this banner to promote, without any hesitation, a unipolar model of the world order where there are ‘exceptional’ countries and everyone else who must obey the ‘club of the chosen.’”

In this world order, the United States not only tells other nations how they “should behave overall” in a “colonial mentality,” but there exists “an international system where arbitrariness reigns, where all decision-making is up to those who think they are exceptional, sinless and right [and] any country can be attacked simply because it is disliked by a hegemon.”

Putin says that Russia sees a future multipolar world order in which “no one can unilaterally force or compel others to live or behave as a hegemon pleases even when it contradicts the sovereignty, genuine interests, traditions, or customs of peoples and countries.” Russia sees “civilization [as] a multifaceted concept subject to various interpretations.” The world has evolved from the “colonial interpretation whereby there was a ‘civilized world’ serving as a model for the rest, and everyone was supposed to conform to those standards. Those who disagreed were to be coerced into this ‘civilization’ by the truncheon of the ‘enlightened’ master. These times, as I said, are now in the past, and our understanding of civilisation is quite different.”

Putin argued, as he has consistently, for the principle of the indivisibility of security, the idea that security cannot be divided so that the policies that increase the security of one country decrease the security of another. Indivisibility of security assures that the security of one state should not be bought at the expense of the security of another.

The American insistence on the right of states to unrestrained free will in their choice of security alignments and the accompanying NATO open door policy to Ukraine ignores the indivisibility of security. Putin said, “The main thing is to free international relations from the bloc approach and the legacy of the colonial era and the Cold War. We have been saying for decades that security is indivisible, and that it is impossible to ensure the security of some at the expense of the security of others.”…

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