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Putin’s End of Year Speech: Peace Will Come When I Win



On the 14th December 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down for an annual end-of-year press conference after a year's hiatus after Ukraine resisted Russia's lightning advance on Kyiv, which was supposed to take the capital within days or weeks. Now, almost two years on since Russia's failed special military operation, the conflict slopes towards a war of attrition. To Kyiv's dismay, questions, particularly in the US, are being asked about the huge funds being sent to Ukraine. The tragic events in the Middle East have also knocked Ukraine out of the media circle – a crucial part of Ukraine's appeal for funding and aid. 


Thus, as the future of support for Ukraine stagnates, Putin seizes his opportunity. President Putin must polish his tough-guy image since he faces almost certain reelection next year.


Concerning Ukraine, Russia's demands remain unchanged; Ukraine must be "denazified" and "demilitarised" and become a "neutral country". In reference to the above, Putin stated: "Either we agree or we need to resolve [the issue] with force". 


Of course, when speaking about 'neutrality', Putin is actually speaking about Ukraine sitting cross-legged in his sphere of influence with a Russian puppet in charge. 


Why else would Russia poison Viktor Yushchenko with dioxin in 2004 as the Western-leaning politician sought the Ukrainian Presidency? 


Why else would Russia invade Ukraine in 2014 and annexe Crimea and parts of the Donbas if not in response to the riots and discontent that forced out Russian puppet Viktor Yanukovych, underscoring the will of the Ukrainian people?


If the answer is 'NATO expansionism', or as Putin puts it: "The unbridled desire to creep towards our borders", then, at least in my view, there is a debate to be had about whether this is the United States and the West spreading its own sphere of influence. However, even before the existence of NATO, the Russian-dominated Soviet Union spread its influence over much of Eastern Europe, leading to misery in already war-torn nations. Thus, when it comes to the West's sphere of influence, through the modus operandi of NATO or the EU, the truth of the matter is that the West is just a whole lot better at sphering and influencing – at least when we speak about the European continent.


So, as Russia becomes more aggressive, NATO expands, as we have seen with Finland's recent accession and Sweden's soon-to-be. Additionally, we are now seeing the EU officially open accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova in response to Putin's demands, as both countries are of strategic interest to Russia. 


The fact of the matter is that the trauma of the Communist regime is vivid, specifically for the countries that Russia wants to re-insert into its sphere of control. As such, the existence and popularity of the West, NATO and the EU, especially in former Eastern Bloc countries, comes down to the discontent towards Russia and the stronghold of influence that President Putin is trying to reestablish. 


Another point to consider is why President Putin has suddenly appeared from the shadows. After all, only in August did we see the biggest challenge to Putin's nearly 24 years in power, as Yevgeny Prigozhin's revolt stunned the Kremlin.


First, Prigozhin's plane was plucked out of the air in the most mysterious and coincidental fashions. Then, just a few days ago, we find out that Alexei Navalny, likely Putin's bravest and most cunning critic, and an actual political opponent (hence his poisoning in 2020), goes missing from jail after he was locked away on phoney embezzlement charges. 


Evidently, this trail of breadcrumbs and body bags leads us to suspect that Putin is flexing his ruthless brutality, clearing the path towards his fifth term, which would see his rule extended until 2030. 


In case you were wondering, the chances of Putin being defeated politically are next to nothing, given that the only way to challenge him for the Presidency is by turning powerful members of the military and the political establishment against him and attempting to overthrow him in a coup.

That is why Prigozhin's plane was downed and why Navalny was shipped to Vorkuta; this is how Putin asserts his rule. After all, nothing has changed in Russia; the Russian democratic experiment in the 1990s saw the unravelling of the Soviet Union, and the 1918 Constituent Assembly saw its immediate shutdown and the breakout of the Civil War. 


If this familiar re-assertion of power through brutal crackdown and bold words is Vladimir Putin's modus operandi, why on earth would this article be of interest to anyone?


Firstly, there has been a clear erosion of support for Ukraine. Earlier this year, I read Alastair Campbell's "But What Can I Do?", a fantastic read for young activists and future Prime Ministers. This book opened my eyes to something about the war in Ukraine, which collided with how modern-day media works. 


The reality is that for nearly two years, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has media-managed the war expertly. He owns his own fashion brand of "President at war"; he meets politicians, makes speeches at Parliaments across the world, and A-list celebrities visit Kyiv. We have also seen Ukrainian soldiers dancing on TikTok and loads of content on Instagram and all social media outlets. The truth is that the war in Ukraine is the first "viral" war. 


This is how Zelenskyy has kept our focus on the war effort, building pressure on governments to stand with the viral leader and to hand him the resources he needs, which has nullified to an extent the costs of huge expenditure by foreign countries, especially by the US.


Now look at your social media, with its negative portrayal of Zelenskyy and the growing awareness of the costs of this war. Above all, as the tragic conflict and crisis in the Middle East has exploded, Ukraine has been knocked off the media spin. 


This is perhaps a greater reason for Putin's reappearance, as his opponents have been moved on; the media headline is now Gaza. 


How the modern media system and its algorithms function are of great significance, especially in conflict.


I guess the question to ask at this crossroads is what a feasible, lasting settlement looks like, considering that Putin will not accept anything less than the surrender of Ukraine.


With the opening of EU accession talks not only for Ukraine but also for Moldova, which is of interest to Russia over the issue of Transnistria, it is clear that European leaders are prepared to go toe to toe with Russia, boldly ignoring Putin's demands. Also, whilst Zelenskyy awaits the US Congress's approval of a $61 billion support package, Biden's willingness to spend on a foreign war is turning public opinion sour.


The real intrigue is in the potential reelection of Donald Trump, who has made the sensational pledge to end the war in Ukraine in "24 hours". Regarding this pledge, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was concerned and has asked for Trump to unveil his plan, which is believed to only conceivably be possible with clear Western concessions and, as the Ukrainian President fears, further secessions of Ukrainian territory to Russia. Furthermore, Robert F. Kennedy also signalled his intention for Western concessions, referring to the Minsk Accords, noting that the deal would have the majority of Eastern Ukraine in Ukrainian hands. However, he was careful to avoid the outlandish 24-hour deadlines. 


Finally, the comments of rebel Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who has met with Vladimir Putin, as he is currently threatening to block Ukraine's accession, has boldly hailed the return of Donald Trump, even donning a trademark MAGA hat, which could suggest for afar, that Moscow wishes for the return of the Trump Presidency. Above all, his clear battle with NATO could foreshadow the dismemberment of the alliance after the potential withdrawal of American funding and support. 


Overall, Putin's re-emergence marks an interesting turning point, as support for Ukraine begins to dwindle and Donald Trump mounts his third bid for the US Presidency, leading to speculation of a new world order in the coming years.  


Image: Pool/via REUTERS

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