What Putin believes, or just wants his people to believe?
In his state of the nation address on 4 December Putin used the following phrases:
“Speaking of the sanctions, they are not just a knee-jerk reaction on behalf of the United States or its allies to our position regarding the events and the coup in Ukraine, or even the so-called Crimean Spring. I’m sure that if these events had never happened – I want to point this out specifically for you as politicians sitting in this auditorium – if none of that had ever happened, they would have come up with some other excuse to try to contain Russia’s growing capabilities, affect our country in some way, or even take advantage of it”.
“Despite our unprecedented openness back then and our willingness to cooperate in all, even the most sensitive issues, despite the fact that we considered – and all of you are aware of this and remember it – our former adversaries as close friends and even allies, the support for separatism in Russia from across the pond, including information, political and financial support and support provided by the special services – was absolutely obvious and left no doubt that they would gladly let Russia follow the Yugoslav scenario of disintegration and dismemberment”.
These arguments are plainly false. The idea that the US and its (European) allies would have sought some other pretext to sanction Russia if the Kremlin had not annexed Crimea and supported separatism in east Ukraine is total fabrication. It has been with the greatest reluctance that the EU has adopted a sanctions policy, which could only be agreed between the member states because Putin had broken every rule in the Helsinki rulebook, and more precisely the 1994 Budapest Memorandum under which Russia guaranteed Ukrainian territorial integrity with its existing borders.
The idea that the West has been fostering Russian separatism or hoping for a Yugoslav scenario is not only rubbish. It is actually the 180 degree contrary to what Western capitals have been thinking. When the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1991 the main concern was that it should not break up, and from my position as ambassador in Moscow in the early 1990s I witnessed and joined in attempts to help the emerging CIS become effective long after it was proving to be dysfunctional. Indeed as the Yugoslav tragedy unfolded, the comment at the time was indeed that a disintegrating Soviet Union or Russia would be ‘Yugoslavia times five, plus nuclear weapons’.
If he believes what he said, he needs a psychiatrist. More likely he knows he is inventing things, but just finds that a good tactic for the speech of the day.