It can be summarized simply: “Western ideas out of Russia: Russian money out of the West.”
He harkened back to Russian traditions, in line with his recent spasm of nostalgia-marked by calls to revive the Hero of Socialist Labor decoration and Tsarist regimental names. He lamented Russia’s degraded spirituality, and called for a restoration of Russian spiritual traditions and a rejection of foreign influence. He lauded democracy, but with peculiarly Russian characteristics: to Putin, democracy is “the power of the Russian people with their traditions” and “absolutely not the realization of standards imposed on us from outside.” Further, he recommended a ban on foreign investments by government officials. He excoriated companies for using offshore tax havens and lamented that nine out of ten large transactions involving Russian companies were executed under foreign, not Russian law. He pleaded: “We need a whole system of measures to ‘de-offshore’ our economy.”
All a piece with a longstanding historical pattern in Russia, where for centuries tentative reformist movements and wary engagements with the West have inevitably been followed by conservative reaction, authoritarian relapse, and rejection of foreign influence. These conservative episodes have been sparked by unsettling domestic political ferment and the aging of the leadership. Like now.
Putin’s speech gives the lie to the numerous commentators who predicted that Putin would have to liberalize politically and wean the economy from energy and state enterprises in order to prevent decline or revolution. As if this is consistent with an understanding of the nature of Putinism, Russian history, or the way that aging men think and behave. What were they thinking?
No. The Russian hamster wheel is making another turn, like it has for centuries. Few countries are prisoners of their history in the way Russia is. Putin has announced to the world that he is taking Russia back to the future.