The Russian predilection for seeking the subliminal meaning of every official pronouncement certainly is not lost on their wily president. There is no doubt he sought to send some messages during his recent state of the nation speech. The question is, who heard him and what did they hear?
Vladimir Putin announced a "moratorium" on Russian participation in the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) and its subsequent extensions. This immediately drew speculation from foreign observers that Putin was responding to American plans for missile defense bases to be placed in Poland and the Czech republic.
The speech had a consistent theme: The United States' and NATO's efforts at building "systems of military bases near our borders" was clearly stated. Rather dramatically he also chose to remind his audience " the next state of the nation speech will be delivered by a different head of state." That statement may have contained the real intent of his speech.
Here was definitive counsel to the Duma and the Russian people in general that Russia has once again found itself in a tightening western noose. The implication was that the United States and NATO are seeking to intimidate Russia, a Russia that is once again regaining its justified role in world affairs.
Why do this? Putin knows full well there is no chance of western military aggression. The anti-missile project is unmistakably to counter any future Iranian nuclear threat. Why create an image of American political military ambitions in Eastern Europe? The answer is that there was a subliminal aim to lay the groundwork for a popular demand that the Russian constitution be amended to allow Putin to remain in power.
Russia's president said in effect that a growing emergency is at hand. Who could miss the implied message? A true patriot would not want to change leaders at such a crucial time. It was the sort of unstated direction the Russian public is acculturated to seek. Vladimir Vladimirovich should be allowed to stay another term to prevent the gathering western forces from trying to strangle Russia just as economic and political stability is on the horizon.
For the ordinary Russian stability defines democracy. Freedom to dissent runs a far second to stability. Putin has brought stability. It will be argued that commitment to legal aspects of the constitution in this context runs counter to the broader intent of the constitution itself. The Russian man-in-the-street is well prepared to accept this logic.
The fact is, of course, that nothing in the American missile defense plan is new. Putin's government has been well briefed from the very beginning. In 2002 the Russians themselves proffered the idea of developing a joint missile defense system, but then dragged their heels and now have declined Secretary of Defense Robert Gates's offer to revive the idea. Russia has never been excluded. It has even been invited to view the construction of the Pacific sites in Alaska and California.
Furthermore there is no real military reason for Russia not to continue to participate in the CFE treaty. The only reason to have taken this step is to create a phony atmosphere of international insecurity brought on by the Americans. And who gains by such absurdity? If V.V. Putin wants to be drafted to stay on as president, he is the one that gains by the creation of this charade.
The key element in this Russian drama is the similarity between their current public pronouncements and the Orwellian efforts to manipulate popular thought processes during the Communist era. The Kremlin today pretends to be a democratic institution, yet at the same time Putin's administration works steadfastly to quell the slightest dissent.
Vladimir Putin cannot appear to seek a change in the constitution. He must be seen as having had to have been forced to accept the people's will. What more clear example of the need for "the people" to act than a nefarious effort on the part of the Americans and NATO to press closer and closer to Russia's borders with missile systems?
The answer is obvious. Something -- everything -- must be done to arrange for Vladimir Vladimirovich to stay on the job. Let's hear it for "Putin in '08!"
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