the “disconcerting” welcome to the New Year in Vladimir Putin’s Russia

Putin surrounded by troops

This year’s speech was more attended than in previous years, where only the president appeared.

The clock on the Kremlin’s Spassky Tower strikes midnight.

The Russian national anthem plays.

Next, Channel 1 TV kicks off 2023 with a pop song: “I’m Russian and I’ll go all the way… I’m Russian, to spite the world.”

Then in the list of the most popular (patriotic) tracks you hear: “I was born in the Soviet Union, they made me in the USSR!”.

Channel change. At Russia-1’s New Year’s party, one of the station’s most famous war correspondents holds a glass of champagne, toasts 2023 and wishes “more good news than bad.” from the front“.

Next to him sit men in military uniform. An official from Russia-occupied Ukraine, based in Moscow, declares: “I wish us all peace. But peace will only come after our victory.”

Understood. This year’s festive extravaganzas on Russian television are a strange mix of partying and victory on the battlefield.

It’s not usual on a New Year’s night in Russia. But it’s not a normal New Year’s Eve either. The “normal” disappeared ten months ago, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

There was nothing “normal” about Vladimir Putin’s New Year’s address to the Russian people. In his annual address, the president is usually alone outside the Kremlin. This year, behind him were men and women in combat uniform.

Last year, the Kremlin leader noted that “New Year’s Eve is literally filled with good cheer and happy thoughts.”

On this occasion, joy and happy thoughts were scarce.

The “Motherland”

President Putin used the speech to promote the Kremlin’s alternate reality: that in this conflict Russia is the hero and Ukraine and the West are the villains.

“For years, Western elites hypocritically assured us of their peaceful intentions… but, in fact, they encouraged neo-nazis in every possible way,” Putin said.

“Defending our Motherland is the sacred duty we have with our ancestors and descendants.”

When the Kremlin talks about “defending our Motherland”, it must be borne in mind that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine. Not the other way around.

A Russian family watches Putin's New Year's Eve speech on television

A Russian family watches Putin’s New Year’s Eve speech on television

The Russian president claims that his country is benefiting greatly from the dramatic events of 2022: “It has been a year of important steps towards full Russian sovereignty.”

“We laid the foundations of our common future, of our true independence.”

The claim that in this war Russia is fighting for its sovereignty and independence is puzzling to say the least.

To begin with, Russia has long been a sovereign and independent nation.

Even if Vladimir Putin’s premise that Russia never achieved “full sovereignty” is accepted, the question arises: why not? putin leads 23 years in power. Enough time, one would think, to sort it out.

The other thing President Putin does in his New Year’s speech is divide the Russians between us and them, between those who support his “special military operation” and those who don’t.

“It has been a year that has put a lot of things in their place,” the Kremlin leader said, “and has drawn a clear line between courage and heroism, on the one hand, and treachery and cowardice, on the other.”

It is likely that in 2023 we will see the Kremlin draw this line more clearly never. The Russian authorities have mobilized all the country’s resources for the “special military operation”.

There is no room for debate or discussion: the government hopes that public opinion will unite and support the president. Russians who do not will be made to feel that they are betraying their Motherland.

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