Kyiv, Ukraine – To many in the West, the most frightening part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s national address on Tuesday was the suspension of Moscow’s participation in a key nuclear arms treaty.
The only pact that regulates the world’s largest nuclear arsenals in the United States and Russia, the New START Treaty limited the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles Moscow and Washington can have.
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But for Ukrainian observers, the threat of a new Cold War was nothing but a bluff aimed at disguising Putin’s desperation following Russia’s military failures, international ostracism, and economic sanctions imposed by the West.
And it was easier for him to blame what he calls “the collective West” for these failures, because admitting Ukraine withstood the aggression, fought back, and regained lost areas is too painful and humiliating, Ukrainian pundits say.
The “we-will-take-Kyiv-in-three-days” blitzkrieg that Putin initially planned turned into a quagmire that showed how disorganised and weak the Russian military really is.
“We will achieve the [military] goals we set step by step, accurately and consecutively,” Putin said at the beginning of the address.
The main message of Putin’s speech was to shift the blame from his own role in unleashing the war to accusing the West of “starting” the conflict by backing the “neo-Nazi junta” in Kyiv, analysts said.
“The essence of the entire address is in the transition from ‘I made a decision to start a special military operation’ to ‘It’s them who started the war,’” said Svetlana Chunikhina, vice president of the Association of Political Psychologists in Kyiv.
“The rest is a noisy cover,” she told Al Jazeera.
‘Played with people’s lives’
Putin used colourful epithets from a gambler’s lexicon to describe how the West plotted against Russia the way it planned to “destroy” Iraq, Syria and Libya.
“When Russia sincerely – I want to emphasise it – sincerely strove for a peaceful solution [in Ukraine], they played with people’s lives, played, as they say in notorious circles, with marked cards,” he said.
Shifting the blame also meant that Putin wanted Russians to get ready for a long war, tighten their belts, and blame the entire Western world for every discomfort, another Ukrainian pundit said.
“Russia doesn’t believe in the possibility of a quick victory,” Igar Tyshkevych, a Kyiv-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera.
The Kremlin understands any truce inked directly between Moscow and Kyiv bears risks – and wants Western involvement.
“The threats of nuclear proliferation, the threats to widen the conflict are nothing but a hysterical invitation of Western leaders to discuss Russia’s place in the future,” Tyshkevych told Al Jazeera.
However, such a discussion is hardly possible in the nearest future, so the Kremlin has placed its bets on the presumed success of a new military offensive in Ukraine, which may start in the spring or early summer (Winter ends in Europe in late March).
Putin’s entire speech is but an attempt to talk about little details without understanding the whole, Kyiv-based analyst Aleksey Kushch said.
Putin talked “about the war without mentioning the war’s goals, about [Russia’s] subjective sovereignty without understanding how the model will work”, he said.
‘Cruelty and aggression’
Putin has for years used the term “sovereign democracy” to describe the difference between Russian and Western models of governing the state and justify the tightening of political screws during his 23 years-long rule.
However, during his speech, he bristled at the West for starting an “economic war” against Moscow through crippling sanctions.
Putin declared “an urge to have a sovereign model and at the same time — [expressed his] offence by the sanctions”, Kushch said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy did not comment on Putin’s speech, but lambasted Russia for Tuesday’s shelling of the southern city of Kherson that killed at least six and wounded dozens.
“The world doesn’t have the right to forget even for a minute that Russia’s cruelty and aggression know no border. The terrorist-state will be held responsible for all of its inhuman crimes against our people and Ukraine,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.
His adviser derided Putin’s “confusion” and belief that Ukraine is ruled by “neo-Nazis.”
“Putin publicly showed his backwardness and confusion and emphasised that Russia is in an undoubtful backwoods end-of-the-road,” Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted.
“And that he doesn’t and won’t have perspective decisions. Because everywhere [around him] are Nazis and conspiracy theories,” Podolyak wrote.
‘Liberate us from ourselves?’
Even Putin’s former loyalists fighting in Ukraine lambasted him for failing to address the actual losses the Russian army had suffered – and the responsibility of top brass and civilian leaders for the death toll and miscalculations.
“In the army, everything is beautiful and is only getting better. Not a word about losses, bad luck, difficulties,” Igor Girkin, a former “defence minister” of the separatist “People’s Republic of Donetsk” wrote on Telegram.
“Not a word about mistakes and the responsibility for them of someone from the halls of power,” Girkin, who has been showering Putin and Russia’s generals with criticism from the front lines for months, wrote.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians generally choose not to pay attention to what Putin said.
“What new can I hear from him? That our Jewish president is a Nazi? That I am a Nazi? That they want to liberate us from ourselves?” said Yelena Kalynichenko, a sales clerk in Kyiv.
“He is obsessed with Ukraine, with putting an end to our very existence. But it will be us who will put an end to his rule,” the 35-year-old mother of two, whose brother is serving in the military, told Al Jazeera.