by Sarah Hurst
Russia’s military might is its crowning achievement, Vladimir Putin made clear today in his annual speech to the Federal Assembly, as he showed a series of videos of nuclear weapons and prototype weapons that he claimed have no parallel anywhere else in the world. The speech began with boring economic statistics: slides about Russia’s increasing life expectancy, exports and record grain harvest, with wildly optimistic predictions for the year 2024 when Putin’s fourth term in office would end.
Suddenly Putin and his audience became animated when the topic turned to weapons. He showed animations of a missile that he said has “unlimited range” and a submarine-launched nuclear weapon that he asked people to come up with a name for. A space weapon called the Avant-Garde is also in the works, Putin asserted, showing graphics of it zooming around the world. The audience interrupted him frequently with applause and at one point gave him a standing ovation.
Russia was forced to develop these weapons because the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, Putin said. He added that Russia’s enemies would never have a hero like pilot Roman Filippov, shot down in Syria. This was his only reference to the reality of Russia’s wars. Putin said he would halve Russia’s “unacceptable level” of poverty, but this will be a tough challenge with so much of the country’s dwindling wealth going towards war and a renewed arms race.
Putin also promised increased investment, but made no mention of Exxon Mobil’s announcement yesterday that it would abandon its joint exploration projects with Rosneft because of sanctions. It is easier for Putin to make his boasts in a speech to a captive audience than it would have been in an election debate. A debate without Putin was broadcast on Russian television yesterday in which Ksenia Sobchak threw a glass of water at Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the ultranationalist LDPR leader responded by calling her a whore. The purpose of the debate was presumably to make Russians think that Putin is their best alternative.
Also yesterday Alexei Navalny said that his trial scheduled for March 5 has been cancelled for unknown reasons. Meanwhile, the “heroes” of one of his recent videos, Oleg Deripaska’s ex-girlfriend Nastya Rybka and sex coach Alex Lesley are in a Thai prison after being arrested for working illegally – leading sex classes for Russian tourists. Thai police have also said that they damaged the country’s reputation. Rybka has begged for political asylum in the US, claiming that she has information about the Trump-Russia investigation, but this is unlikely.
Categories: Campaign diary