Vladimir Putin has not greeted crowds in Crimea or piloted a warship across a sparkling Black Sea to celebrate the annexation of the peninsula this year. There were footage of local strongmen, bodybuilders, breaking records this week dragging military planes across tarmacs and squeezing what looked like a truck chassis onto a bench to show their patriotism, but the president of Russia itself marked the seventh anniversary of the Crimea. annexation with a videoconference from his office. He then went to a concert in Moscow to kindle pro-Russian fervor.
It was on his video link to Crimea that Putin was finally asked to respond to President Joe Biden calling him a killer in an interview on Wednesday. The Russian president did not indicate any offense, although other members of the Russian government did so on the strongest terms. Putin for his part said he wished Biden “good health” and then added that when people criticize others, they usually speak for themselves. Next comes a tirade against the United States and its people.
“They think we are the same as them, but we are a different people. We have a different genetic code and different cultural and moral values,” Putin said. “Regarding the American establishment, the ruling class, its identity was formed under well-known circumstances,” Putin continued. “The colonization of the American continent by the Europeans was linked to the extermination of the local populations. It was genocide, in modern terms, it was a blatant genocide of Indian tribes.”
Biden threatened additional sanctions against Russia this week after U.S. intelligence services concluded it was likely that Putin himself led a team to influence the 2020 presidential election by doing everything possible to harm Biden’s campaign. Moscow said it was not afraid of new sanctions.
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There is no indication that the sanctions – whether for the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny or for the annexation of Crimea – forced the Kremlin to take some steps or stop others, but James Nixey, a Russian expert at Chatham House in London, says that’s not the point.
“Sanctions should not be judged on whether they forced Putin to change course because it is too high a threshold to judge sanctions. The value of sanctions is to express his displeasure and not just to bow down and accept any Russian transgression on the international stage. “
The Russian government has disdained the pain of the sanctions, but according to Anton Alekseev, a correspondent for Estonian state television who recently produced a documentary on Crimea, the sanctions are in fact biting and he has seen evidence there.
“Russia says you don’t feel the sanctions there,” he told a panel at Chatham House discussing the situation in Crimea. “That’s not true. I felt the penalties. Your bank cards don’t work. Taxi apps won’t work. You won’t see the stores of the well-known big chains. It is, in some ways, a gray area. “
The consensus within the Crimean Panel of Experts was that the level of enthusiasm for joining Russia declined significantly over the seven years in the peninsula where there was initially broad support among the population. predominantly Russian. Many were hoping for the “return of a mythical past,” said New Yorker correspondent Joshua Yaffa, who has written extensively on Crimea. He was referring to a sort of planned USSR 2.0 that never saw the light of day.
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“They descended from the clouds on the earth,” said Anton Alekseev of the inhabitants of Crimea. He added that he was struck by the level of patriotism in the city of Sevastopol, which is home to the Russian naval base during his visit in 2014. He said there was more pro-Russian sentiment than what you will find in Moscow.
“But now people have suffered,” he said, referring to his findings on a trip last year. “Their land and real estate was taken away from them because the Russian military claimed it. There are a lot of these stories.” And, Alekseev noted, no one can fight the claims in Crimea. This is all in the name of national security.
Russia, according to NATO, has been strengthening its military presence in the peninsula since annexation. While this has dimmed the outlook for Moscow residents, Muscovites may also be less enthusiastic about Crimea, whose multiple and necessary infrastructure projects have cost Russian taxpayers dearly.
In the years immediately following annexation, there was a great patriotic boost across the country. Putin’s rating went up and people called it “the Crimean effect”. Crimea has long been not only strategically but romantic or emotionally important in the minds of Russians who have historically stayed in the resorts of its microclimate.
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But other real-life issues, from economic problems to a pandemic to the poisoning of a prominent opposition figure, many say, have taken precedence over the glory of reclaiming Crimea. Critics say Putin needs another victory. Or at least, to claim one. Perhaps that’s why at the end of the day, he challenged Biden to some sort of duel – a debate broadcast live, just the two – to continue, he said “the discussion.”
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