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Putin ramps up war rhetoric in message to West


Two weeks out from an election which Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the rest of the world, expects him to win, the Russian leader’s major keynote speech could be said to be both an electoral pitch and the announcement of a programme for government.

The message may not be new, warning Western leaders not to meddle in the affairs of a Russia which Mr Putin sees as resurgent and invincible, but the context certainly is.

Mr Putin is two years into a war in Ukraine about which he clearly feels increasingly upbeat.

Added to that, the speech came the day before the funeral of arguably Mr Putin’s last major opponent, Alexei Navalny, whose death Western leaders have blamed on Mr Putin, a claim the Kremlin denies.

The Russian leader dialled up the warnings to the West when he said there was a genuine risk of nuclear war if Ukraine’s allies sent their troops to fight in Ukraine, as he said Moscow had the weapons to strike targets in the West.

His comments come days after a summit of European leaders in France, called by French President Emmanuel Macron to counter the narrative that all President Putin has to do is wait out a war which has dwindling support in the West.

Not known for his brevity during these occasions of public speaking, the Russian leader covered a range of topics over a long time – from investment in the Russian economy to financial supports for large families.

But it was the consistent return to the imagery of war which was the main message for both his domestic and international audience.

At times visibly angry, Mr Putin invoked the examples of Adolf Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte to suggest that anyone who tries to take on Russia will fail, in rhetoric which has hardened as the battle lines with the West have become more pronounced and irreversible.

President Putin is famously known for never uttering the name of Alexei Navalny, who will be buried in Moscow tomorrow just two weeks shy of the Russian election, which is sure to see Mr Putin’s success once again.

For a leader keen to stress the symbolism of Russia’s history and his own part in its present and future, the symbolism of Mr Putin’s preparation for victory as Alexei Navalny is buried will not be lost on the Western leaders to whom the Russian President is addressing his message.


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