Выступление Путина в ООН / Putin’s Speech at the UN

Visual content: Putin speaking to the UN General Assembly in New York
Audio content: Excerpts from Putin’s speech that illustrate some typical motifs of his foreign policy perspective

Video from Первый канал
28 сентября 2015

In late September 2015 Putin addressed the General Assembly of the UN at its 70th session–which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a milestone that has been extensively marked in Russia. Putin’s speech was timed to occur during evening prime time in Moscow. This speech is a great illustration of Putin’s international relations outlook on so many levels. As usual, Putin exhibits finely honed rhetorical skills. He has an excellent knack for placing himself on the moral high ground (in words at least) while taking advantage of every chance to criticize the Western powers, and particularly the US, for any failings or self-centered evils of their own foreign policy (and, in other contexts, of their domestic policy, political system etc.). No matter what policies Russia is pursuing, Putin makes his approach sound humane, reasonable and high-minded. Throughout his speech, Putin never mentions the United States explicitly, but he is very clearly refering to the United States at many points during his speech. Also note that Russia began bombing Syria shortly after this speech was given, so one role of the speech is to explain and justify Russia’s upcoming actions.

In the first segment excerpted below, Putin stands up for the important role of the UN as international mediator and criticizes those entities who act without prior UN approval (as the US sometimes does–but of course Russia also ignores international consensus in its actions in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria).

In the second segment, Putin criticizes those who attempt to meddle in the foreign affairs of other countries (e.g., the US invasion of Iraq, current half-hearted US attempts to topple the oppressive Assad regime in Syria, and US diplomatic attempts aimed at encouraging the democratic uprisings associated with the Arab Spring), noting that these attempts just lead to greater disorder and suffering. Putin generally places a high value on state sovereignty and uses this as a basis for supporting regimes that the US and the West view as oppressive. He may also worry about a similar democratic uprising in his own country, and thus he views popular uprisings as bad, with the exception of the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, who in his view are simply standing up for their right to self-determination against the abusive central power in Kiev.

In the third segment, Putin calls on everyone to unite with each other and with Syrian President Assad against ISIS; he assures us that Russia’s own support of Assad is simply a reality-based and essentially selfless attempt to combat the rise of terrorism, and not an attempt to increase Russia’s geopolitical influence. In the fourth excerpt Putin complains about the expansion of NATO. This is a common motif in his view of international relations: he resents US attempts to cement its place as the sole world superpower after a “victory” over Russia in the Cold War. Within the larger context of his speech, Putin clearly suggests that the aggressive expansion of NATO, and the resulting tensions, led to the war in eastern Ukraine, and he is convinced the US played a significant role in sparking the “Maidan” revolution in Ukraine. Finally, there’s one small but very typical detail in the way the network introduces Putin’s speech (not included in my transcript): the narrator notes that numerous speakers earlier in the day went over their assigned time and as a result Putin’s speech is beginning one hour late. This is a minor but typical example of how the federal television channels generally present Russia as noble and just in the face of self-centered, unfair aggression on the part of other countries that just can’t stand the idea of Russia being strong. Follow the link for a transcript of the portions of Putin’s speech not included in this post.


1:32-2:24: Praising the role of the UN
Мы все знаем, что после окончания “холодной войны” – все это знают – в мире возник единственный центр доминирования. И тогда у тех, кто оказался на вершине этой пирамиды, возник соблазн думать, что если они такие сильные и исключительные, то лучше всех знают, что делать. А следовательно, не нужно считаться и с ООН, которая зачастую вместо того чтобы автоматически санкционировать, узаконить нужное решение, только мешает, что называется, как у нас говорят, “путается под ногами”. Считаем попытки расшатать авторитет и легитимность ООН крайне опасными. Это может привести к обрушению всей архитектуры международных отношений. Тогда у нас действительно не останется никаких правил, кроме права сильного”.

We all know that after the end of the “cold war”–everyone knows this–a single center of dominance arose in the world. And then, for those who ended up on the summit of that pyramid, there arose the temptation to think that if they are so strong and exceptional, then they know better than everyone else what to do. And as a result [here Putin continues to imagine the thoughts of the dominant power] it is not necessary to take into account the UN, which sometimes, instead of automatically sanctioning and ratifying the needed decision, just gets in the way, that is [as it is called], as we say, “gets in the way under the feet.” We [now Putin is speaking from his perspective] view as extremely dangerous any attempts to loosen [shake up] the authority and legitimacy of the UN. This can lead to the collapse of the entire architecture of international relations. Then there would really no longer remain any rules at all, except the right of the strong.

2:56-4:34 A critique of attempts to meddle in the internal affairs of foreign countries
Экспорт социальных экспериментов, попытки подстегнуть перемены в тех или иных странах, исходя из своих идеологических установок, часто приводили к трагическим последствиям, приводили не к прогрессу, а к деградации. Однако, похоже, никто не учится на чужих ошибках, а только повторяет их. И экспорт революции, теперь уже так называемых “демократических,” продолжается. Достаточно посмотреть на ситуацию на Ближнем Востоке и в Северной Африке, о чём говорил предыдущий выступающий. Конечно, политические, социальные проблемы в этом регионе назревали давно, и люди там, конечно, хотели перемен. Но что получилось на деле? Агрессивное внешнее вмешательство привело к тому, что вместо реформ государственные институты да и сам уклад жизни были просто бесцеремонно разрушены. Вместо торжества демократии и прогресса – насилие, нищета, социальная катастрофа, а права человека, включая и право на жизнь, ни во что не ставятся. Так и хочется спросить тех, кто создал такую ситуацию: “Вы хоть понимаете теперь, чего вы натворили?” Но, боюсь, этот вопрос повиснет в воздухе, потому что от политики, в которой лежит самоуверенность, убеждённость в своей исключительности и безнаказанности, так и не отказались”.

The export of social experiments, attempts to whip up changes in this or that country [these or other countries], on the basis of [emerging from] one’s ideological positions, often led to tragic results, led not to progress but to degradation. However, it seems, no one learns from the mistakes of others [Putin had briefly referred to the mistakes of the Soviet Union], but only repeats them. And the export of revolution, now the so-called “democratic” [revolutions], continues. It is enough to look at the situation in the Near East and in Northern Africa, which the previous speaker talked about. Of course, the political and social problems in that region had been ripening for a long time, and the people there, of course, did want change. But what came about in practice? Aggressive external interference led to this, that instead of reforms governmental institutions and even the way of life itself were simply unceremoniously destroyed. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, [the result is] violence, poverty, social catastrophe–and human rights, including the right to life, are valued at nothing. And so one has the desire to ask those who created such a situation: “Do you at least now understand what you have wrought?” But, I fear, this question will hang in the air, because in spite of it all they have not renounced a policy characterized by [in which lies] self-assurance, the conviction of one’s own exceptionalism and impunity.

7:25-9:05: Putin calls for everyone to unite with each other and with Assad against ISIS
Сегодня мы оказываем военно-техническую помощь и Ираку, и Сирии, другим странам региона, которые ведут борьбу с террористическими группировками. Считаем огромной ошибкой отказ от сотрудничества с сирийскими властями, правительственной армией, с теми, кто мужественно, лицом к лицу сражается с террором. Надо наконец признать, что кроме правительственных войск президента Асада, а также курдского ополчения в Сирии с “Исламским государством” и другими террористическими организациями реально никто не борется. Мы знаем все проблемы региона, все противоречия, но нужно всё‑таки исходить из реалий. Уважаемые коллеги! Вынужден заметить, что такой наш честный и прямой подход в последнее время используется как предлог, чтобы обвинить Россию в растущих амбициях. Как будто у тех, кто говорит об этом, нет вообще никаких амбиций. Но суть не в амбициях России, уважаемые коллеги, а в том, что терпеть складывающееся в мире положение уже невозможно. В действительности же мы предлагаем руководствоваться не амбициями, а общими ценностями и общими интересами на основе международного права, объединить усилия для решения стоящих перед нами новых проблем и создать по-настоящему широкую международную антитеррористическую коалицию. Как и антигитлеровская коалиция, она могла бы сплотить в своих рядах самые разные силы, готовые решительно противостоять тем, кто, как и нацисты, сеет зло и человеконенавистничество.

Today we are providing military-technical assistance to Iraq and Syria and other countries in the region who are carrying out a battle with terrorist groups. We view as an enormous mistake the refusal to cooperate with the Syrian regime [lit. powers], with the government’s army, with those who are courageously, face to face, fighting with terror. It is necessary finally to admit that, besides the government forces of President Assad and also the Kurdish militias, no one [else] in Syria is really battling with the “Islamic State” [i.e. ISIS] and with other terrorist organizations. We know all the problems of the region, all the contradictions, but all the same it is necessary to act based on [lit. emerge from] realities. Respected colleagues! I am forced to point out that such an honest and direct approach of ours is being used lately as an excuse to accuse Russia of growing ambitions. As if those who talk about this don’t have any ambitions at all. But the point [the essence] is not the ambitions of Russia, respected colleagues, but the fact that it is now impossible to tolerate the situation that is taking shape in the world. In actual reality we propose [for everyone] to be directed not by ambitions, but by shared values and shared interests on the basis of international law, and to unite [our] efforts for the solution of the new problems that stand before us, and to create a genuinely broad international anti-terrorism coalition. Like the anti-Hitler coalition, it would be able to fuse together in its ranks the most diverse powers who are ready to decisively resist those who, like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humanity.

10:30-11:20: Putin’s resentment at the post-Cold-War expansion of NATO
На наш взгляд, речь должна идти о формировании пространства равной и неделимой безопасности, безопасности не для избранных, а для всех. Да, это сложная, трудная, длительная работа, но альтернативы этому нет. Однако блоковое мышление времен холодной войны и стремление к освоению новых геополитических пространств у некоторых наших коллег все еще, к сожалению, доминируют. Сначала продолжена линия на расширение НАТО. Спрашивается: ради чего, если Варшавский блок прекратил свое существование, Советский Союз распался? А, тем не менее, НАТО не только остается, она еще и расширяется, так же, как ее военные инфраструктуры. Затем поставили постсоветские страны перед ложным выбором – быть им с Западом или с Востоком?

In our view, we should be talking about the formation of a space of equal and indivisible security, security not for a select few but for everyone. Yes, this is a complicated, difficult, long-lasting task, but there is no alternative to this. However, the bloc-based thinking of Cold War times and the striving to assimilate new geopolitical spaces, [which is] characteristic of certain colleagues of ours, still, unfortunately, dominates. First the path toward the expansion of NATO was continued. The question arises, “for what?”, since the Warsaw Pact had ended its existence and the Soviet Union had broken apart. But, nevertheless, NATO not only remains, it even expands, just as its military infrastructure does. And then the post-Soviet countries were placed before a false choice: either be with the West or with the East.

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