Defiant and regretful Putin prepares Russia for a long war
Veteran watchers of Vladimir Putin will have seen a few familiar faces at today’s speech.
There was social contract Putin, promising everything from subsidised housing, tax breaks and minimum wage increases for working families, to a new social fund for care of war widows, orphans, and wounded.
There was low tax, free market Putin, promising expansive incentives for businesses to invest at home and and buying domestic IT solutions.
There was technocratic Red manager Putin, reeling off statistics on increases in wheat exports, road building programs, and health and education reform.
The economy, he said with confident reference to half a dozen indexes and percentage points, is holding up very nicely under Western sanctions.
And there was populist Putin, taking a predictable swipe at “the chaos of the 1990s” and unnamed oligarchs who “saw Russia only as a source of income” and spent their wealth on “elite real estate in the west.”
But one Putin was absent.
The spitting with fury, cod-history spouting, blood-crazed nationalist who began the war a year ago was taking a day off.
Yes, the war loomed through everything he said. Yes, he invoked wartime duty to Motherland and "truth". And yes, he accused the West of seeking a “strategic defeat” on Russia.
But the tone was regretful and defiant rather than violent and triumphalist.
'Price asked of the Russian public is now higher'
The only real nod to foreign policy was his justification for suspending engagement with the Strategic Weapons Reduction Treaty.
There are good reasons for this.
Nationalist fervour has served Mr Putin well at times. But like a powerful drug, the short, sharp high soon wears off.
So after a year of a war that was meant to be over in less than a week, he went back to the social contract that has served him well for more than two decades.
Stability, rising living standards, and economic competence in exchange for political quietism.
The price asked of the Russian public is now higher. They must accept not only Mr Putin's supreme power and indefinite reign in the Kremlin, but also agree to continue his insane war.
Whether he can deliver on his end of the bargain amid the privations of a war time economy is another question. But there is little sign of real discontent with the deal so far.
Failure can always be blamed on some underling. More promises can be churned out when needed. And the war will go on.