The format of a live conversation with the people was now used for the 12th time by the Russian president. This propaganda technique started in 2001, one year after his election. For the past 13 years Mr. Putin only twice missed this shining opportunity to look like an almighty, omniscient and eternal ruler of the Russian people, namely in 2004 and 2012.
Putin’s latest ‘direct line‘ with the people of the Russian Federation was unique for several reasons. First of all it was the first show given after an annexation of a part of a foreign, sovereign state’s territory. In this case we are, of course, talking about Ukraine’s Crimea.
According to the official website of the presidential show, among the 10 most popular questions to Mr. Putin — allegedly determined by some kind of vote — three had to do with Crimea. Putin, in fact, received numerous accolades from those lucky people who got a chance to speak with him during the live broadcast. In this way Putin cemented the approval of his actions in Crimea by Russian society.
Interestingly enough, Ukraine was mentioned about 115 times in this year’s Putin’s talkshow, compared to 13 times in 2013, 4 times in 2011, 10 times in 2009, seven times in 2008, and five times in 2007. Moreover, never before has Putin dared to call any part of Ukrainian territory with the tsarist term of “Novorossiya” or “New Russia”, as he arrogantly did with regard to Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odessa.
It was also a symbolic coincidence that the ‘direct line’ theater took place on the day of the Geneva talks to resolve the mounting separatism in eastern parts of Ukraine. The Crimean situation was not on the negotiations agenda. Another symbolic gesture to underline the irreversibility of the Crimea’s annexation.
But the most terrifying long-term aspect of the live conversation with Mr. Putin was the fact that it was the the first one of such shows where he mentioned the concept of the “Russian world.” In Russian language this term is used as “Russkiy” world. This is significant because the name of country is “Rossiya”; thus, Russians by citizenship are called “Rossiyane,” while Russians by ethnicity are called “Russkiye.” The concept of the “Russkiy mir” or Russian world is an ethnic-centered concept. Today this concept has become a compass of Russian foreign policy under Putin. It is a messianic mission that the Russian premier has developed for the Russian people.
The main point of this mission is to unite the people who consider themselves ethnic Russians under one political umbrella, to develop a ‘civilizational space’ based on the Russian Orthodox religion, Russian language and culture, and Russian historical memory. This concept is basically a counterbalance to the Western, Euro-Atlantic, democratic, liberal system of values.
Putin’s mention of this concept during his most public, most personal and most high-profile media event means that the construction of the “Russkiy mir” formula is complete and ready to be deployed. Russia is finally prepared to compete. But this is not going to be a market-like competition. This will be a Soviet-style planned competition, spearheaded by the powerful state and characterized by the use of force, coercion and intimidation. For Putin, this will be a rivalry to determine the superiority of Russian collective values, versus the Western individual ones.
As it is usual for speeches to contain the most important ideas at the end, so did Mr. Putin’s TV 4-hour long scripted performance. At the very end he outlined the basics of the “Russian world.” The mission that he had defined for the Russian people, the collective values that are to be embraced by Russians are all about sacrifice for the sake of a greater moral entity — the Fatherland. This stands in stark contrast to the individual rights and freedoms of the Western civilization.