Putin wants to hold the West, especially NATO, responsible for the current war. It is an attempt to increase support for the war among the Russian population. This narrative about the West’s war against Russia is also aimed at the populations of Western states, who are to be convinced of NATO’s (joint) responsibility for the war.
“Defending the motherland when deciding its fate has always been sacred,” Putin said in his speech at the military parade yesterday. The spezoperazija, the “special military operation” of the Russian army in Ukraine, is also used to defend the homeland. The core of Putin’s speech on Victory Day was to place Russia’s combat operations in Ukraine in the tradition of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany.
Just as the Soviet Union defended itself against an existential threat at the time, Russia’s security is now also being defended against Ukraine, which is ruled by “Nazis” and “Bandera supporters”. Putin is thus continuing to knit the narrative that he presented at the beginning of the war in February. This is intended to strengthen the legitimacy of military aggression among the Russian population.
The second key point in the speech was Putin’s statement that the war was, in a sense, forced on Russia. Russia tried to resolve the Ukraine crisis through negotiations, but the West “didn’t want to listen”.
Instead, NATO has constantly armed Ukraine and made it a threat to Russia’s security. Putin thus repeated the reversal of perpetrator and victim that he had formulated at the beginning of the war. The aggressor is not Russia, but Ukraine, which is supported by the West. This narrative is also aimed at the mood of the local population.
What was missing in this speech was the justification given earlier that the Ukrainian government in Donbass was committing genocide against Russians and Russian-speaking people. Russia therefore had to “liberate” the Donbass in order to end this genocide. It was surprising that this narrative was missing from the speech.
Putin’s attempt to hold the West, particularly NATO, responsible for the current war is an attempt to increase support for the war among the Russian population. The “special operation” is not directed against the Ukrainian people – a brother people. It is directed against the Ukrainian government, which is acting as the West’s henchman in its war against Russia.
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Russia is therefore in a defensive war against the West. This supports the narrative used by the Russian leadership for many years that the West wants to weaken Russia, deny it great power status and force Russia into allegiance. This narrative has become deeply ingrained in the perceptions of a large part of the Russian population.
The Western sanctions against Russia reinforce the view among the Russian population that the West is at war with Russia. The sanctions under which the Russian population is suffering are not only aimed at Putin, but against the entire Russian people. The arms deliveries to Ukraine also strengthen this world view. The West uses the Ukraine as a deployment area against Russia.
The Russian population is easier to mobilize against the West than against Ukraine. In an “existential war” by Russia against these Western enemies, more sacrifices can be made and more willingness to defend created than against the Ukrainian people. This narrative about the West’s war against Russia is not only aimed at the populations of Western countries, who are to be convinced of NATO’s (joint) responsibility for the war.
It is also aimed at the country’s own people to once again stand together resolutely in order to contain the danger from outside. This could also be the preparation for a general mobilization in Russia. If Russia defends itself against the West, then the people must stand ready with heroism and sacrifice to repel the “aggressor”.