A Fight for Survival: What Victory Looks Like to Putin

In the first part of the address, Putin spoke in more emotional and radical terms than usual about the destructive role of the West, appearing increasingly convinced that it is intent on inflicting a “strategic defeat” on Russia at any cost. A year ago, he expected the West to be more passive in its support for Ukraine. Now the war with Ukraine is, in Putin’s eyes, becoming just a minor episode in the West’s global war against Russia: a battle of civilizations aimed essentially at the physical destruction of the Russian world.

Perceived as a threat to Russia’s very existence, the West has stopped being a potential interlocutor for the Russian president, and has turned into a strategic aggressor, planning to — in Putin’s words — “finish us once and for all.” Putin hasn’t yet said so outright, but his address implies that Russia and the West are incompatible, so Russia can do nothing but fight to be the last one standing in the battle for survival.

The main message that Putin wanted to get across to the West in his speech was that “it is impossible to defeat Russia on the battlefield.” He was essentially warning that the intention to defeat Russia will make the war a long one, and will bring about the large-scale destabilization of the entire world, but will never end in victory over Russia.

Having lost any hope of dealing with the “traditional” West, now considered a military adversary, Putin continues to address the “right West”: in Putin’s eyes, pragmatic elites focused on the national interest and ordinary people who would like to restore normal relations with Russia.

He also appealed to countries that have not sanctioned Russia, presenting the West as a threat to their sovereignty, stability, and economic prosperity. This was an attempt to fan the flames of anti-Western sentiment in the non-Western world, and erode the support of the traditional elites in Western countries by showing that any mission to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Russia will take its toll on the whole world.

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