Alexander Mercouris on Putin’s Valdai Speech

Most of the points missed, ignored, obscured or distorted by Western commentators in Putin’s Valdai speech – considered by Mikhail Gorbachev to be his most important – are explained by Alexander Mercouris on Russia Insider.

Mercouris points to its “very coherent intellectual framework”. “Putin’s vision of the international system”, he notes, “is a profoundly conservative one – a fact he actually admitted himself after the speech in answer to a question. Running like a thread throughout the speech is a typical conservative’s yearning for stability and mistrust of change, a wish for a predictable rule based system in which the sovereign rights of nations are respected and in which change when it happens is contained and managed and never encouraged.”

The interpretation and analysis of international law are certainly more impressive than those of today’s American and EU leaders:

“The speech also shows where Putin wants to position Russia. In another striking phrase Putin says that he wants Russia to assume leadership of nothing save possibly the defence of international law.

Running like a thread through the speech is a deep commitment to international law interpreted in the most conservative way on the basis of legal documents, treaty texts and Court decisions.  The creative efforts of (as Putin would put it) self-interested western reinterpretation of international law (such as R2P [Responsibility to Protect]) are spurned as rationalisations for violating it.”

“This”, Mercouris continues, “is a vision of Russia as the sheet anchor of the international system, acting together with its allies China and the other BRICS states to restrain the US where possible, rescuing the US from its follies whilst upholding international law, world order and stability.

It is a vision European statesmen of the nineteenth century would have instantly recognised but which political leaders in the US and Europe today barely understand, which is one reason why his speech is little understood.”

I would not, however, go so far as to say, as does Mercouris, that total value-neutrality characterizes an old-style European conservative position, or should characterize such a position today; nor am I sure Putin thinks so. Making certain distinctions of value, in dealing with countries, regimes, political systems, ideologies, and individual political leaders, is hardly incompatible with conservative realism:

“Since Putin’s concern is for stability, an aspect of his vision, which would be instantly familiar to an old style European conservative but which is totally alien to a modern western liberal, is that it is totally value neutral.  Where westerners today habitually divide nations into democracies and dictatorships and decide their attitudes to them on that basis, Putin treats them all the same, considering their domestic arrangements to be something for them to worry about.”

While Mercouris is certainly right that the current, Western division between democracies and dictatorships is much too simple, some value-judgments, which also to some extent determined the political relations, certainly had to be passed on the USSR. But clearly, for Putin it is not the particular political system of the USSR that is relevant in the present context:

“Underpinning everything is a belief in the need for an orderly system preserved by a balance of power.  For Putin, the USSR’s greatest contribution was precisely in that by providing a counter weight to the US it secured international stability.  Much of the speech is a lament for the loss of the counterweight provided by the USSR.”

There are certainly a few neo-Sovietists around (and not just in Russia) who simply lament the loss of Soviet communism and would like to see it restored. And they are definitely a problem, not least as they feed into the negative propaganda images in the West. Of course, Russia’s way of dealing with and relating to its historical experience of communism must be a different one from ours. It is hardly possible to avoid, for instance, that the newly poor looked back to the social security systems of the Soviet era, or perhaps that the conservative aspects of Stalinism are recalled. Yet there have, as far as I am aware, been no signs whatsoever of communist ideological restoration in the official policies of Putin’s government.

The president has made quite clear that what he had in mind when he made his oft-cited statement in 2005 about the catastrophe of the breakup of the USSR was precisely what he now restated at the Valdai meeting, not the collapse of the specific political and economic system of communism. Incidentally, it was, among other things, this same perception on the part of American paleoconservatives and other conservative critics of the Iraq war in 2003 that caused David “Axis of Evil” Frum to write his infamous piece in the National Review on “unpatriotic conservatives” (he has since recanted).

What Russia has always seemed rather to perceive as needed, after the Yeltsin years, is a social conservatism, a socially responsible conservatism – including socially responsible state power – which promotes the renewal of genuine traditional values.

Putin Just Made the Most Important Speech of His Career. The West Should Listen More Closely

0 Responses to “Alexander Mercouris on Putin’s Valdai Speech”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s



"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
Ramana Maharshi