Thanks to the Prague Post, we have the full text in English of President Vladimir Putin’s speech yesterday announcing the annexation of Crimea and, more importantly, described at great length his explanation for why the move—which is likely to create a grave rupture between Russia and the United States—was justified. Read in full, it’s a scary document. In it, Putin mixes politics, national resentments and nationalism, all overlaid with a religio-mystical tone that sounds, at times, almost messianic. The speech was delivered to wild applause and, according to The New York Times, some in the audience were moved to tears by the speech’s aggrieved evocation of Russia’s history and its religious, Russian Orthodox overtones.
For instance, at the very start of the speech, Putin says:
Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The graves of Russian soldiers whose bravery brought Crimea into the Russian empire are also in Crimea.
Though Crimea has always been part of Russia, Putin says, when the Soviet Union fell apart, Crimea ended up with Ukraine. “It was only when Crimea ended up as part of a different country that Russia realized that it was not simply robbed, it was plundered.”
Indeed, Putin issues what sounds like irredentist comments about reclaiming millions of Russians—not only in Crimea, and not only in Ukraine—back to the motherland:
Millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones [after the USSR’s collapse], overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders.
Putin says that Russia wants “good relations with Ukraine,” but adds:
We hoped that Russian citizens and Russian speakers in Ukraine, especially its southeast and Crimea, would live in a friendly, democratic and civilized state that would protect their rights in line with the norms of international law. However, this is not how the situation developed. Time and time again attempts were made to deprive Russians of their historical memory, even of their language and to subject them to forced assimilation.
In Ukraine, says Putin, those who demanded change had legitimate grievances. But, he adds:
Those who stood behind the latest events in Ukraine had a different agenda: they were preparing yet another government takeover; they wanted to seize power and would stop short of nothing. They resorted to terror, murder and riots. Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites executed this coup. They continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day.… We can all clearly see the intentions of these ideological heirs of Bandera, Hitler’s accomplice during World War II.
Of course, by annexing Crimea, Putin is almost certainly fueling the fire of the most extreme nationalist elements in Kiev. Unless the situation changes soon, what had been a dangerous minority of radical-right elements in the new Kiev government could gain huge new momentum, making Putin’s inflated claims a self-fulfilling prophecy. Putin adds that “there is nobody to talk to” in the Kiev government, dangerously implying that since Ukraine is essentially ungoverned, Russia can step in to protect ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians. In his speech, Putin explicitly links the annexation of Crimea to the need for protecting Russians across Ukraine: