President Putin’s annual address to a joint session of the bicameral legislature which was held today in Moscow with a considerable presence of invited representatives of civil society generally followed the tradition of the past two years in terms of allocation of time to domestic and foreign policy. Now as then the lion’s share of his talk was devoted to what he called the “everyday issues” (бытовые вопросы) that are of greatest interest to the average television viewer across the country: financial assistance to families with children, improving medical services, investments in high-speed auto routes passing through St Petersburg and Moscow to Kazan and Yekaterinburg, keeping food prices under control under conditions of pandemic caused inflation, vaccinating the whole country.
Foreign policy and the deployment of the latest strategic weapons systems took up just 10 minutes at the end of his speech of nearly one and a half hours. But for the “Kremlinologists” among us, those last minutes were golden, meaning they contained substantive material for discussion, bearing in mind that for speeches such as this every word has been weighed in advance and nothing is spontaneous or superfluous.
It was remarkable that Vladimir Vladimirovich began his survey of international issues with mention of the attempted assassination of Belarus President Lukashenko, which he described as entailing more than the liquidation of one man. According to Putin, the coup d’etat would have been accompanied by a massive cyber-attack provoking the shutdown of electricity and all infrastructure. All of this, he was beyond the pale. And yet, he further added, it received no condemnation from the Collective West. Finally, Putin likened the foiled plot to what happened in Kiev in February 2014 when Ukrainian President Yanukovich was forced from power by a coup and attempts were made to murder him as he fled the capital and made his way to the Russian frontier to find refuge.
In fact, these likenesses follow ironclad logic of responsibility which goes back to the United States. So far from Belarus itself we have heard that the plotters were funded by United States intelligence operatives. Surely that was also true in 2014. But behind them stood diplomats, in particular a certain Victoria Nuland who ran the show apparently without oversight by her nominal bosses in the State Department or in the White House of Barack Obama.
In fact, the Collective West has not merely failed to condemn the Belarus operation, it has not acknowledged in any way the Belarus-Russian claims of a foiled plot, though all the elements of their activities on the project at a downtown Moscow restaurant were shown on Russian television prior to their arrest and transfer to Minsk for interrogation. And there has been a total blackout of news coverage in US major media, a near total blackout in European media.
One may speculate variously on the reasons for this blackout. A couple of days ago I wrote that the revelations of the foiled plot made by Russia’s premier weekly news program on Sunday caught Washington by surprise, and since they had no way of knowing how much the captured plotters would reveal about Washington’s implication in it all, they ordered everyone to just shut up. Today, I see an additional and more persuasive factor to explain Operation Silence: these days that very same Victoria Nuland has been passing through the vetting in the Senate of her appointment as Under Secretary of State for Policy. Her approval seemed to be in the bag. It would have been most inconvenient for the February 2014 events, for Victoria’s famous “Fuck the EU” remarks on an intercepted telephone conversation with the US ambassador to Ukraine to be brought up in connection with the very similar operation now in Belarus.
By placing the Belarus assassination plot in his Address to the Federal Assembly, Putin has made it very difficult for the Western press to continue to ignore the issue.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2021