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In Latest Diatribe Against West, Putin Tries To Normalize War, Isolation For Russians

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to deliver his annual state-of the-nation address in Moscow on February 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to deliver his annual state-of the-nation address in Moscow on February 21.

One of the few concrete proposals that Russian President Vladimir Putin made during his nearly two-hour address to the nation was that all participants in the "special military operation" -- as the Russian government calls its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last February -- should be granted two weeks' home leave every six months.

It was one of many indications in the speech that the Kremlin is preparing Russians for a new normal of war and continued confrontation with the West for the foreseeable future.

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BANNER - News Analysis Rotating 1

"The main idea of the speech, as I understood it, was normalization," political analyst Kirill Rogov wrote on Facebook. "The normalization of war. The normalization of repressions. Funerals, prisons…."

Standing against a subdued light-blue background, Putin alternated between acerbic criticism of the United States and Europe and, for the Russian audience, a mixture of calls for unity with reassurances that all is well with the economy and that the future -- for Russian families, businesses, and all citizens who do not rebel -- is bright.

He reiterated his false claims that the West -- particularly Washington -- aims for "direct aggression toward the east" by fomenting "neo-Nazism" in Ukraine. As he has repeatedly done, he painted a war of aggression in which Russia is trying to seize control of its neighbor by force as a defensive fight to protect Russia and "its historical lands which are now called Ukraine."

"I am addressing you during a complex…transformational period for our country, a period of fundamental, irreversible changes across the world, and crucial historical events that will determine the future of our country and our people," Putin said just after he took the podium. "It is a period during which colossal responsibilities are placed on all of us."

'War As A Way Of Life'

Early in the address, Putin said that Russia would conduct what it calls the special military operation in Ukraine "step by step, carefully, and consistently," signaling that following multiple battlefield setbacks for Moscow's forces in 2022, it won't be over soon. At the end, he said that "Russia will meet any challenges because we are one country, one big nation."

The message: The Kremlin intends to continue the war in Ukraine until it achieves its goals, no matter how long it takes, and that no one should live in expectation that Russia's relations with the West will be mended anytime soon.

"The key idea running through the whole speech was buying loyalty," political analyst Yekaterina Shulman wrote in a Facebook post. "The citizens get money and benefits. Officials get careers and money. Everyone gets gratitude -- everyone is good and united. It was very touching. The theme of internal enemies or evil bureaucrats was generally absent: All enemies are external."

"War as a way of life," wrote journalist Maria Slonim, "and the norm for life under Pu[tin]."

Returning soldiers, Putin said, would be given advantages in educational placement, hiring, and government service.

The speech came as the Russian massive invasion of Ukraine approaches the one-year mark on February 24, with no clear end in sight. Although Putin devoted no time to the issue of casualties, Western officials including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken have put the number of Russian soldiers killed and wounded in Ukraine at more than 200,000.

He did not discuss the conduct of the war or mention the setbacks Russia has faced on the battlefield, including its withdrawal in November from the Ukrainian city of Kherson, the only regional capital that Moscow occupied after the invasion and the capital of one of the four Ukrainian regions that Russia claimed to have annexed in September.

In the midst of the most severe crackdown on dissent in Russia since the Stalin era, Putin asserted: "The rights and freedoms of our citizens are inviolable and guaranteed by the constitution, and, despite all external challenges and threats, we will not restrict them."

"Putin's speech is like a massive free psychotherapy session," political scientist Kirill Shamiyev wrote on Twitter. "Everything is fine, warm, nice, successful. Close your eyes and just believe in yourself."

'Doing Everything With Our Own Hands'

Putin paid particular attention to the economy, portraying it as successfully shifting to a war footing and holding out the prospect of higher salaries, better benefits, and affordable housing for defense industry workers.

"Today our factories, our design bureaus, our research groups…are doing everything for victory," he said. "We have to strengthen the guarantees for these workers."

Putin talked up the new military technologies he claimed Russia is developing, asserting that in many cases they "exceed foreign analogs."

"The task before us is to bring them to mass, serial production," he added. "And such work is already happening and accelerating constantly. And it is happening -- I want to stress -- on the basis of our own Russian scientific and industrial foundations."

"We are doing everything with our own hands," he said.

Digging in his heels, Putin pledged in closing that "Russia will meet any challenges because we are one country, one big nation."

Remarks like that gave journalist Asya Kazantseva a "strong feeling of dysphoria, as if our simulation is being run by an insane ChatGPT with the settings turned all the way up."

"Everything seems to be real, but it doesn't make any sense," she wrote.

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