Though analysts were "curious to see whether the president would take a conciliatory tone in his annual speech to Russia’s political elite," given the instability of the Russian economy due to in part to sanctions imposed on the West over Russia's intervention in Crimea, (The Guardian) Putin's speech instead took a fierce tone as he slammed the West over their interference over his attempts to annex Crimea.
By stating the Crimea territory "has a sacred meaning for Russians as important as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for those who profess Islam and Judaism," Putin portrays the territory as an area of religious importance to Russia, (LA Times) in an attempt to justify his forced annexation of the region. Interestingly, despite this, he has denied involvement of Russian troops in the Ukrainian crisis, despite the claims by NATO officials that "they have observed Russian armed convoys crossing the unprotected border into Ukraine" (LA Times).
Though logically, one would think that Russians would "prefer continued access to consumer goods over influence in Ukraine, iPads over great power status," given Russia's poor economic conditions, (Bloomberg) Putin's approval ratings are actually increasing. (Forbes) Though Western sanctions were intended to damage the credibility of Russian leadership, they have actually increased approval ratings due to increased defensive patriotism inspired by Western sanctions. Putin took advantage of this viewpoint to denounce the West for imposing sanctions, stating they "would have simply found another excuse to contain Russia with sanctions" (The Guardian).
Questions for discussion:
1) Western sanctions have done little to damage the credibility of Putin domestically, which was their intended goal. Should Western strategy towards Putin's encroachment of Ukraine be modified? If so, how so? If not, why not?
2) Is the West engaged in another "Cold War" with Russia? Explain your reasoning.
3) What do you think the future holds for relations between Russia and the West? What policy should the West, in particular, the United States, adopt towards Russia?