Just as Trump feels that “unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defence”, Putin evidently feels much the same way
The media reports on Putin's Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly sent a chill down my spine on an already chilly day. The reports were designed to do just that. The idea of an undetectable, unstoppable strategic nuclear weapon, announced in Putin’s speech, is horrifying. If I was in Russia, I'd be organising protests against it and would likely suffer for my troubles.
What hasn’t been widely reported is the context provided by Putin in his speech to 'explain' the development of such a weapon. You can - and really should - read the whole speech here.
Whilst Putin and Russia appear increasingly belligerent and threatening, the Russian president at least makes an effort to justify this posture. The same cannot be said for other leaders of nuclear armed states. Compare and contrast the content of Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on nuclear-related matters: “Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these horrible dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defence.”
He continues: “As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else.”
Where Trump merely states that Russia poses a “horrible” danger, Putin offers a somewhat more comprehensive assessment of the risks and dangers in play: “Back in 2000, the US announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile [ABM] Treaty … We did our best to dissuade the Americans from withdrawing from the treaty. All in vain. The US pulled out of the treaty in 2002.” What followed from the US’s withdrawal from the treaty was the development of new ABM systems followed by their deployment on the Russian periphery and elsewhere.
Putin suggests that: “Apparently, our partners got the impression that it was impossible in the foreseeable historical perspective for our country to revive its economy, industry, defence industry and Armed Forces … And if that is the case, there is no point in reckoning with Russia’s opinion, it is necessary to further pursue ultimate unilateral advantage in order to dictate terms in every sphere in the future … Despite our numerous protests and pleas, the American machine has been set into motion, the conveyer belt is moving forward.”
Just as the President of the United States feels that “unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defence”, the Russian President evidently feels much the same way. There is nothing unique in Putin’s stance, however horrible the implications may be.
Of course, there's no 'excuse' for nuclear weapons. They're evil devices designed to unleash mass murder. When we're told they're a mere deterrent, the deterrers – from all sides – are admitting that they find a world system premised on the threat of nuclear genocide an acceptable state of affairs. What, other than pure psychopathy, might we call this stance? Likewise, what label would we give to a state of affairs where facts seem to be deliberately overlooked and the drums of war broadcast by the 'state media'?
This is more than a dangerous game: we once again face the prospect of a nuclear arms race between Washington and Moscow and all that it entails. One thing that must be resisted from the start are efforts to portray Russia and her president as exceptionally belligerent. Accepting such efforts without reference to what has actually been happening or what has actually been said will blind the peace and anti-war movements to the immanent dangers that face us all.