On the last day of the annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Vladimir Putin delivered a speech in which he accused the United States of attempting to establish a global dictatorship. Olga Khvostunova, editor-in-chief of imrussia.org, speculates that the Russian president might have been subconsciously speaking about himself.


The Valdai club was founded in 2004 as an annual discussion platform for the Russian and foreign political analysts. However, over time the club developed a reputation of the Kremlin-sponsored propaganda-fest. Photo: Mikhail Metzel / TASS.


Recently, any public appearance of Russian president Vladimir Putin is bound to provoke a worldwide response. Political analysts and journalists anticipate with undisguised interest just how the Russian president will surprise them next. His Valdai speech certainly fulfilled their expectations—even exceeded them. Case in point: many members of the media immediately forgot the controversy caused by deputy head of presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin only two days earlier, when he said that Putin is Russia, and there is no Russia without Putin. Putin’s Valdai speech overshadowed Volodin’s dubious aphorism.

Speaking on the last day of the annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club (which was held in Sochi this year), the Russian president admitted straight off that his speech would be “excessively tough” but “frank.” Its key message can be summarized as follows: the world order faces a historic fork in the road and growing risks, but the current system of global and regional security is seriously “weakened, fragmented, and deformed,” and the checks and balances mechanism is broken.

Putin’s answer to the question “who is to blame?” is quite straightforward: “It looks like the so-called ‘winners’ of the Cold War are determined to have it all and reshape the world into a place that could better serve their interests alone. [...] This is the behavior of the nouveau riche, who stumbled upon a great wealth—global leadership. Instead of managing it expertly and accurately, for their own benefit as well, they made a lot of blunders.”

The Russian president went on to detail and criticize the foreign policy of the United States, which, in his words, has built a "unipolar world“—developing and promoting an apologetics of its “dictatorship over both people and countries.” As America maintains the role of global leader, its propaganda has cultivated an image of an external enemy that the U.S. is prepared to target Iran, China, and Russia. The American leadership, he continued, mixes politics with economics by imposing sanctions against Russia and pressuring governments of other countries (in Europe) to follow their example. With the aim of imposing control over regional conflicts, the U.S. has architected “color revolutions,” resulting in “uncontrolled chaos.” Meanwhile, political, economic, regional, and other risks are intensifying, signs that world anarchy is growing... And so on and so forth in the same vein.

Putin offered a simple recipe for resolving this imminent global crisis: working together as partners to overcome all the problems mentioned above. It is clear, though, that, having unleashed a barrage of criticisms against the United States, he was not addressing this offer of cooperation to the U.S. administration, but rather to European governments, which depend on Russia more and thus listen to the Russian president’s speeches more keenly.

We are living in the twilight of the era of big politics, in the so-called G-Zero world. Only in such an empty political scene can an average politician like Vladimir Putin be named the most powerful man in the world.

The speech caused a great stir in the media, even though Putin was saying nothing new. He has voiced similar accusations and criticisms of the U.S. and the Western world at large on previous occasions. For this reason, the emotional response provoked by his recent rhetoric perplexed me. How many times can one be caught off-guard by Putin’s cynical and caddish manner of speaking?

Unfortunately, the emotional exhaust caused by Putin’s Valdai speech has once again shown that the president’s usual B-grade political show is still popular. It is especially sad, because his speech didn’t warrant the amount of attention paid to it. No doubt, this misplaced attention can be explained by the fact that strong leaders capable of responding adequately to the policies of the Russian president are largely lacking in the international arena. We are living in the twilight of the era of big politics, in the so-called G-Zero world. Only in such an empty political scene can an average politician like Vladimir Putin be named the most powerful man in the world.

It’s also unfortunate that Putin’s tasteless comedy, which seems like a thrilling exotic show to outside observers, constitutes real life for the citizens of Russia—a life that’s not as funny as the president’s jokes. In Russia’s controlled public space, there is no place for independent observers, political analysts, and journalists. We are assigned the role of mere chroniclers and interpreters. There is nothing left for us to do but simply document the facts of Russia’s political reality and attempt to understand their meaning.

So I will do just that by asking, What does Vladimir Putin’s speech mean? Like a litmus test, it shows at least two important trends. First, it reveals what in psychology they call “the projection of guilt.” In listing the faults of the United States (aspirations for global domination, attempts to establish dictatorship, violations of international law, initiation of regional conflicts), Vladimir Putin was actually subconsciously speaking about himself—about the way Russia acts under his government. A naughty child will always try to blame the neighbor boy. A criminal will always deny his culpability, pointing instead to an accomplice. A politician will always attempt to justify his or her dubious actions by citing concerns for the public good. However, when one’s lies reach a pathological scale, it’s time to worry. In the case of the Russian president, the scale of his lies is enough to inspire existential fear.

Second, Putin’s attitude toward his own people and the international audience is growing smugger, as evidenced by the fact that he’s allowing himself to make more tasteless jokes. This likely means that the Russian president is feeling more secure and comfortable now, perhaps having finally come to believe in his own invincibility. And if we know anything about invincibility it’s this: it’s an illusion, and those who believe they possess it eventually lose vigilance and begin committing fateful mistakes.