Iris de Graaf
On the week that marks one year since Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, President Putin is delivering his much-anticipated annual State of the Union address today. Analysts have been pondering for months what he will say in this “big speech” to the Russian parliament. Some expect a Russian escalation, others expect yet another speech in which the West is blamed for the war and Putin elaborates on the ‘new multipolar world order’.
We can’t get into Putin’s mind, but these are the scenarios being discussed right now:
State of affairs and future ‘special military operation’
The Russians have also been asking themselves for a year: ‘How long will this take, why are so many Ukrainians and Russians dying, and above all: ‘what is the real purpose of all this?’
It seems plausible that today at least the beginning of an answer to such questions will come, because according to Kremlin spokesman Peskov, that is exactly what is planned: “Our whole life revolves around the Special Military Operation (SMO). It affects us in every possible way, and also life on the whole continent. Therefore, of course, we can expect that the president will pay a lot of attention to that”.
The independent Telegram channel ‘We can explain’ interviewed some State Duma deputies who are convinced that the goals will become clear. “The military operation must be completed this year. It is important to understand the tasks assigned so that the completion can actually take place,” said Communist deputy Alexander Yushchenko. Yevgeny Fyodorov, from the ruling United Russia party, expects steps to be announced to “resolve the situation through [een overeenkomst] with NATO.” “Of course nothing depends on Kyiv. Everything depends on Washington,” Fyodorov said.
Based on sources in the Kremlin, independent news medium Meduza expects Putin to talk about additional state aid for the soldiers who participated in the SMO and their families. Meduza also spoke to sources who expect Putin to pay attention to ‘great successes’ in the fight against sanctions, such as ‘parallel imports’.
Integration of new areas
A second scenario is that something is about to happen to Russia’s ‘new territories’. Tomorrow, the State Duma and the Federation Council will vote in an extraordinary session on “the integration of new territories”. That can mean anything. For example, it can be about constitutional amendments or other legal matters related to the Russian-annexed regions of Ukraine.
But it could also be about the relationship with Belarus and the separatist Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Some analysts point out that Belarusian President Lukashenko and the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia came to Moscow this weekend.
Russia has long been strengthening the ‘Union State’ between Russia and Belarus, and referenda were also announced last summer in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, although they are no longer planned.
Perhaps the Duma will discuss the expansion of these regions. As the Kremlin-critical political scientist Stanislav Belkovski wrote on Telegram: “It is possible that the Kremlin will try to compensate for the defeats of the SMO by accelerating the accession of Abkhazia and South Ossettia to Russia. Under certain circumstances, even Belarus could be completely ‘ can be absorbed.”
The expectation that the integration of new territories will be central to Putin’s speech tomorrow is reinforced by Putin speaking tomorrow at the Luzhniki football stadium in Moscow at a major patriotic rally expected to gather more than 200,000 Russians.
Whatever regions this ‘integration of the new areas’ will involve, it is expected that Putin will use that event to announce or celebrate some sort of ‘reunification of historic areas’.
New phase, or nothing new
A third scenario is that Putin will declare a new phase of the SMO or even a ‘all-out war’. In addition, the entire country could be mobilized and the borders would be locked. Until now, these expectations never materialized, but the moments when Putin spoke publicly until now were also not really suitable for such a big announcement. Today’s speech would be.
Still, most analysts expect ‘nothing new’. “Yes, it is announced that he is going to say something about the goals of the war, but he himself does not even know what the goals are,” says journalist Aleksander Nevzorov on the Telegram channel “We can explain.” “We will probably hear another series of incoherent lies and boasting, a demonstration of aggression towards the West. Putin is repeating himself like a broken record player.”