Opinion: No promises from Putin this time | Opinion | DW | 01.12.2016
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Opinion: No promises from Putin this time

The Russian president's address before parliament was an address to the nation. But, Putin was careful to cover himself – and not without good reason, writes DW's Juri Rescheto.

It's been three years of unfulfilled promises, Russians tell themselves. They'll have to keep on waiting if they are not to lose faith in President Vladimir Putin and his policies. He has been promising a better future for years – for his own country and - with Russian help - around the world.

This time, it would be a different kind of speech, Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said. And it was: a speech without any promises.

Just like Soviet times

Putin's address before the Duma focused largely on domestic policy: Russia first, the rest of the world last. The hour-long speech was a flashback to Soviet times, heavy on self-congratulation and bright optimism: Moscow catching up to and overtaking the West – starting with birthrates, which unlike elsewhere are on the rise thanks to "traditional values"; an increase in university attendance; and advanced technology Russia exports to the world. There was not a word uttered about major conflicts such as those in Syria and eastern Ukraine that Russia is heavily involved in, rather words of goodwill towards China and India, and a hopeful note on the US and President-elect Donald Trump.

Rescheto Juri Kommentarbild App

DW's Juri Rescheto

That was it, and that was smart. What you don't promise, you don't have to stick to.

A year ago the tone was very different. On Syria, Putin wanted to set aside "disagreement and difference of opinion" with the West and confront terrorism "under the auspices of the United Nations."

Instead, Russia has trumped the UN, flying its bombers in the face of the West and over the skies of Syria in the service of Bashar al Assad. Yet an international coalition remains the Kremlin's wish.

As for democracy in Russia, Putin said last year he wanted "citizens' unconditional trust in the results of parliamentary elections and its unshakeable legitimacy." Ultimately, his United Russia party won again, beating all expectations – the victory's "unshakeable legitimacy" obtained with the lowest voter turnout of all time.

Betting on people's short memory

On Russia's economy, Putin attributes problems not to Western sanctions, but domestic sources. That is only partly true: Lauded "import substitutions" – Russia's homegrown answer to EU products no longer available – work only for agriculture, and even then only to an extent. Russian farmers have received enormous help from the government; almost all other sectors, for example automobiles, are trending negative, due to a lack of important supply parts.

Putin just hopes his people have forgotten his promises from last year and next year will no longer remember his remarks from this year. He runs for reelection in 2018, when he again will have to make promises. Those he may have to keep.

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