New makeup of Putin doctrine. Lessons for Chisinau. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



In order to survive and preserve their freedom in the face of the Russian imperial revenge, the people of the Republic of Moldova need a prospective country project with pronounced accents of anticipation. The objective of the year 2030 set as time limit for the definitive decoupling from the so-called Russian world does not guarantee its real achievement for the Republic of Moldova in the perspective of Ukraine’s pacification based on a geopolitical compromise...


Anatol Țăranu

On December 14 this year, the Kremlin leader, for the first time since the beginning of the large-scale war with Ukraine, held a Direct Line call-in show on Radio and TV and answered questions put by citizens and journalists at the meeting entitled “Results of the Year with Vladimir Putin”. This event was for the first time combined with a large press conference of the Russian leader, which was held against the backdrop of the next presidential election in Russia, which will take place on March 17, 2024, and Putin has already announced that he will run in this.

Summary of war waged against Ukraine

Putin’s inaugural speech at this meeting was, in fact, a summary of the results at the end of Russia’s second year of war against Ukraine – in 2022 there was no final press conference, no “direct line” with the President of the Russian Federation. Even though he recently announced his intention to run for another presidential term, Putin has said almost nothing about it in his online dialogue with society. Also, the head of the Kremlin ignored the subject of opposition inside Russia, obviously clarifying this way that the political opposition in Russian society does not have an appreciable value for him.

It is obvious that the Russian leader does not feel the need to fight for the sympathy of the people – he is convinced that the people are already with him. He does not believe that he is in a politically vulnerable position, and therefore there is no need for him to specifically increase his popular support. In this regard, the Kremlin will not specifically seek any pre-election victory — military or otherwise — until March. This is because there were no signals in Putin’s speech indicating possible changes. Despite some hiccups, Putin is generally satisfied with the government, the Central Bank, the Ministry of Defense and law enforcement agencies. So, the bottom line is that if personnel changes occur after the election, they will be aimed not at correcting the course, but at strengthening it.

Sufficient cannon fodder and political support

Vladimir Putin’s first multi-hour communication with citizens and journalists in the past two years turned out to be related not to the approaching presidential election, as was normal to be expected in a traditional democracy, but to the interpretation of the complicated situation in the war with Ukraine. From the Russian leadership’s point of view, the war in Ukraine is Russia’s confrontation with the West and has reached a turning point: the Ukrainian counteroffensive has failed, Russia feels more confident than ever, and the West is increasingly hesitant, plunging into internal divisions.

Indeed, on the surface, Putin has plenty of reasons for optimism: Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been virtually curtailed, and Russia is again advancing on a broad front, even if no serious territorial gains are expected. There also seem to be enough human resources for the Russian army: the president assured that there is no need for new mobilization - almost half a million contract soldiers have already been recruited. Putin makes it clear that Russia has enough military forces and that there is no need for unpopular decisions, such as announcing new mobilization. According to Putin, there are 617,000 Russian soldiers along the 2,000 km line of contact on the Ukrainian front. Shortly before this, he claimed that, in addition to the 300,000 people mobilized for contract service, another 486,000 thousand “volunteers” were recruited.

Putin says the Russian economy has a large margin of safety. Unemployment is at a record low. Economic sanctions against Russia do not produce the expected effect, Moscow being able to redirect foreign economic relations to alternative markets, especially those of China and India. Russia, Putin pointed out, has adopted an intransigent but expected stance in the relationship with the West. The main hope is that the “so-called partners” in the West will weaken economic pressure and meet with the Kremlin halfway.

No more rules?

There is no longer any international law for Putin in the relationship between states. “As regards the rules-based world order, there are no rules as these change every day,” the Russian leader said at his annual press conference on December 14. The main political concept Putin raised for several times during the event was “sovereignty”. In his opinion, the war against Ukraine is justified by the fact that it strengthens Russia’s sovereignty, and Putin sees himself as its guarantor of this. Whereas Ukraine and some Western countries, especially the European Union, do not have real sovereignty.

So, Putin is trying to accredit a new international image of Russia as a state with full sovereignty. This thing may seem something that has been long familiar, but now it is full of new content. Putin formulates a geopolitical model for export, in which sovereignty is an economy independent of external financial instruments, a society protected from external ideological influence, a stable political system consolidated around a certain geopolitical consensus, as well as a strong army, security agencies, etc. As a result, Putin began to change his rhetoric, speaking more optimistically and resorting less often to the nuclear threat. Now he has used the direct line of communication not so much to score pre-election points, but rather to introduce the “new” Russia to the world community and to let the West know that it is time to rethink its policies.

“There will be peace when we achieve our goals"

Speaking about the prospect of peace, Putin admits it only if all the goals of the so-called military operation - denazification, demilitarization and the neutral status of Ukraine - are achieved. Moscow offers no compromises, waiting for Kiev’s effective capitulation: “There will be peace when we achieve our goals, and they will not change,” Putin added in one of his first statements at the “Results of the Year” event. Apparently, the Kremlin has territorial claims to at least one more Ukrainian region, Odessa – Putin has called it a “Russian city”.

The New Russia in Putin’s understanding is a country where military indoctrination should begin as early as childhood. This means that the politicization and militarization of the education system will gain momentum, and the inclination towards conservatism will intensify even further. On this occasion, he articulated a false quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “Wars are won not by generals, but by teachers and priests”, demonstrating again superficial knowledge of history to which he resorts not according to truth, but for the purpose of speculatively arguing his own imperialist policies. In reality, the origin of this aphorism belongs to a geography professor from Leipzig, Oskar Peschel, and is dedicated to the Battle of Sadovo on July 3, 1866, which led to the unification of Germany under Prussia’s patronage.

"... whereas southeastern Ukraine will form part of Russia

In his speech, Putin tried to confront the West with a fact: Russia will not only achieve Ukraine’s complete military capitulation, but will also establish a friendly regime there (“denazification”), and southeastern Ukraine will be part of Russia. Putin clearly explained that the only question is the price the West will pay for postponing the decision to reconsider its support for Ukraine. The message is as follows: either we agree now, or Russia will continue to crush the Ukrainian people and the military equipment sent to them.

At the same time, Putin’s rhetoric towards the United States sounded unusually peaceful this time: “We are ready to build relations with them. We believe that the United States is an important and necessary country for the world”.  Putin even praised Washington for its dialogue on the prisoner exchange, adding that “we speak a language we understand reciprocally”, but the United States is not yet ready “to hear us.”

“Putin expects the West to rethink its policies”

Overall, Putin’s speech on December 14 marked the stabilization of a new reality in understanding the regime in Moscow. Putin tried to accredit the idea that the stage of military uncertainty for the Russians is over. Russia has turned into a state in a consolidated war of attrition. According to declassified data of the U.S. intelligence services, the Russian armed forces lost up to 90% of the initial group in Ukraine - in February 2022, 360,000 people invaded the neighboring country and 315,000 of them were killed or wounded. But these enormous military casualties have not caused an appreciable weakening of the support for Putin’s regime inside Russian society. And the war of attrition promises to turn into a military and political catastrophe for Ukraine whose human, military and economic potential is significantly lower than the Russian one.

Neither Ukraine nor the West, from Moscow’s point of view, can change the situation on the front by military means. Now Putin is waiting for the West to rethink its policies and start looking for opportunities for an inclusive conversation. The signal that Russia is ready for such a conversation was one of the main objectives of Putin’s December 14 press conference. But it is obvious that no one in the West and also in Moscow will accept such proposals made from a position of strength. And this means that a new round of confrontation in Ukraine is most likely in the coming months.

Moldova needs a prospective country project

The first conclusion for the Moldovan political class which emerges from this approach to the existing situation by Putin is boiled down to the prospect of prolonging the war at the border for an indefinite long period. Odessa remains an objective to be achieved by the Russian army, which perpetuates the vulnerability of Moldova’s security. Ukraine’s military victory in the war becomes incalculable, while Moscow will negotiate peace only on the basis of a compromise of Russian-Western territorial and geopolitical concessions.

Chisinau’s strategy of passively waiting for the end of the war involves hard to determine risks and, in the worst case, will lead to the most complex consequences. In order to survive and preserve their freedom in the face of the Russian imperial revenge, the people of the Republic of Moldova need a prospective country project with pronounced accents of anticipation. The objective of the year 2030 set as time limit for the definitive decoupling from the so-called Russian world does not guarantee its real achievement for the Republic of Moldova in the perspective of Ukraine’s pacification based on a geopolitical compromise.

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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