When Vladimir Putin completed his first term in office in 2004, he tried to create modern communication methods with the world, especially the West. That is why the Valdai Club was started with an annual conference attended by the President. It became one of the main venues for the Russian leader to address the rest of the world.
From the mid-2000s to the beginning of the 2010s, he answered the questions of Russian top experts for hours at the conference and talked about the country’s unique democratic development and openness to the world.
What we heard on October 27 was a fundamentally different speech at this year’s Valdai event.
Ahead of the event, the president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, promised that people would “read and read” Putin’s Valdai speech. This is probably what the president wanted it to be, a moment in history where he finds himself defining his legacy and believing that he will certainly not be the loser.
But that was not what they saw. Much of his address was peppered with complaints about the West, prompting some Russian viewers to dismiss it as yet another rant by an unrealistically bitter leader.
But it’s important to examine Putin’s direct and sometimes vulgar rhetoric to understand what his global strategy is. He delivered several messages aimed at different audiences, trying to drive home one key idea: It’s not about Ukraine, it’s about more than that.
Putin’s main and most popular narrative aimed at an international audience is “the end of the unipolar moment” and “the advent of multi-polarity”. He has preached about it for most of his presidency, quoting articles from the late Yevgeny Primakov, the former Russian prime minister and foreign minister.
Unsurprisingly, Valdai dominated the conversation. He accused the West and the United States of fomenting crises and sowing chaos in the world, and reiterated his belief that the rise of other powers needed to respect their interests and participate in setting the rules for how the world should be run.
His key message – aimed at other powers such as China and India – was that an end to US hegemony should lead to the promotion of Western democracy and governance institutions, the universalization of human rights and the end of the so-called “liberal world”. Order” in general.
It should also make room for non-Western financial architects – Russia will do it for at least ten years. That is already happening to some extent in the form of dollarization, but apparently not at the pace Putin needs to combat the negative consequences of Western sanctions.
In an updated Soviet message to the Global South, the Russian president said: Moscow respects the sovereignty of all countries and the right of all peoples to “go their own way”, unlike any Western colonialist in history. He also drew attention to the continued economic dominance of the West and the use of developing countries through “neocolonial” globalization.
Putin did not miss the opportunity to speak about the “diseases” of Western societies to those in the West who oppose their governments or seem to disagree with mainstream cultural and social norms.
It seems to have played particularly on the sensibilities of Western conservatives, bringing about “erasures of culture” and what is considered by liberal elites to be wrong or no longer tolerable. He spoke of the traditional, Christian core of Western civilization, rejecting “weird ideas” such as “dozens of genders and gay pride parades.” Putin has emphasized that his problem is not with Western “elites” but with the people of the West.
The Russian president has tried to appeal to environmentalists for ignoring climate change in the West because of the conflict with Russia.
In short, he gave everyone in the West, East and South reason to think about their own problems and international crises and see the war in Ukraine through that prism: it’s not about Ukraine; It is about many things.
This is the message that Putin and the Kremlin are trying to convey to the world and especially to the West – the cost of supporting Ukraine is too much, and the need – too little, compared to the rest of the world. It can be easily resolved through “discussion on an equal footing”.
Moscow is playing a major role in provoking these crises: from waging a gas war against the EU to dismantling the UN grain deal, blocking Ukraine’s wheat exports and exacerbating food shortages in the Global South. The aim is to distract the world from the war in Ukraine, presenting it as a minor, regional – if not domestic – issue.
Indeed, to those who have not closely followed the war in Ukraine, who do not understand the context and who do not believe the news of war crimes, what Putin is saying may seem reasonable enough. But unfortunately, what he thought of as “discussion” or “solution” was actually a complete surrender of Ukraine – the West agreed to step back and turn a blind eye to the horrors of Russia’s war and occupation.
This is the multipolarity that Putin is preaching – a world order that allows powerful people to do whatever they want and bend international rules.
And while Putin wants the world to forget about Ukraine, he has done so. For him this is a personal matter; It is about delivering “historical justice” in the Russian imperial understanding of it.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.