From, March 19, 2021, Condensed text:

“I remember in childhood, when we argued with each other in the yard, we would say: ‘I know you are, but what am I?’ This is not just a coincidence, not just a joke – the psychological meaning behind it goes very deep. We always project our own qualities onto others, and think that the other person is just like us. We evaluate [the other person’s] actions based on that.” The phrasing is, of course, somewhat dubious, but what can you do?

This was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initial reaction to US President Joe Biden’s unprecedented démarche. After the reporter asked Mr. Biden whether he considers Putin a killer, he paused for a moment, then nodded and said: “Uh-huh. I do.” So then, when meeting with the residents of the Crimea and Sevastopol, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] recalled a story from his happy Leningrad childhood. I cannot be certain, but I think the people of the Crimea and Sevastopol liked that answer. Moreover, Vladimir Putin started his remark by wishing Joe Biden good health, stressing that he was being completely on the level. If anyone among those present had a sense of humor, they would have smiled; some may have even chuckled, hoping for an approving look from Putin. After all, it’s quite obvious that the Russian president was alluding to the very advanced age of his “US counterpart.” As if to say: Grandpa is getting on in years, he barely remembers who he is, and at that age people blurt out all sorts of things. So there was no hint of offense in [Putin’s] voice – just a slight ironic and condescending smile.

Biden and genocide.

Then Vladimir Putin turned into a BLM activist. After all, he didn’t bring up that childish retort just out of the blue – it’s Biden who’s the killer, because he, along with the rest of the North American elite (ordinary Americans have nothing to do with it), is responsible for numerous heinous crimes.

“As for the American establishment, its political and ruling class, its consciousness was formed under well-known and difficult circumstances. After all, the Europeans’ exploration of the American continent went hand-in-hand with the destruction of the native population. With genocide, as they say today. Direct genocide of Native American tribes.*** This was followed by a harsh, long-term, difficult and very cruel period of slavery.” And, of course, Putin didn’t forget to mention the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “which made no military sense.” Yet he didn’t bring up the Korean or Vietnam Wars – his aides clearly dropped the ball. Of course, this list of bloody chapters of American history, which Joe Biden naturally had nothing to do with personally, has a deeper meaning. Here, [Putin] was indicating that the ball is now in the US State Department’s court. [He was hinting:] Say that the [US] president did not mean anything of the sort; that he was speaking metaphorically, and we’ll come up with a way to resolve the situation together. That is why our Ambassador Antonov, who has been recalled to Moscow for consultations, will depart no earlier than March 20. So you have a few days to come to your senses. But something tells me that the US administration will coolly ignore this peacekeeping move by Russian diplomacy.

Overall, it’s clear what strategy the Russian regime will choose at the initial stage. Loyalists are already roiling with rage, foaming at the mouth and not holding back on rhetoric. As for the protagonist of this scandal, who got called a bad name, he’s keeping cool as a cucumber, not taking the matter too seriously, and clearly is not about to get into a squabble. . . .

Kitty got claws.

Never before has the leader of the free world called any Soviet or Russian leader a killer. Perhaps this will become established diplomatic practice in the future, and we’re present at the birth of a new tradition, but that’s how it is for now. So we can safely say that the Russian political elite are faced with a radically new situation rife with all sorts of consequences – both political and psychological, and more. For his part, Putin understands perfectly well that now any of his interlocutors will immediately think: “That’s the guy Joe Biden called a killer.” Vladimir Putin now has a mark he has to bear for the rest of his political and natural life. So what can he do now? Whisper to everyone he meets: “You understand, of course, that this is complete nonsense – I’m no killer”? The main problem is that many will not believe those assurances. They will recall [Aleksandr] Litvinenko, [Sergei and Yulia] Skripal, [Boris] Nemtsov, [Aleksei] Navalny.1 So this is a difficult and practically hopeless situation.

1[For coverage of Litvinenko and Skripal poisonings, see, respectively, Vol. 58, No. 48, pp. 1‑3 and Vol. 70, No. 10‑11, pp. 10‑12; for the murder of Nemtsov, see Vol. 67, No. 9‑10, pp. 3‑5; for the poisoning of Navalny, see Vol. 72, No. 34‑35, pp. 13‑16. – Trans.]

It goes without saying that on Thursday morning, Vladimir Putin woke up a different person. We always knew that for him, it’s very important to feel part of big geopolitics, the crème de la crème of political society. Well, now he can forget about it forever. He’ll never get to have tea with the queen, while all his attempts to call America to reason will look naïve and pointless. Joe Biden did not slip up: He intentionally and deliberately closed the door for Vladimir Putin to ever become a part of the global establishment. He has been written off forever. And he will have to live with this new reality. Perhaps Vladimir Putin does not quite yet realize his new status in the international arena, but when he does, all jokes and childhood reminiscences will, of course, come to an end. He will need to show resolve, will and determination to stand up to a hostile world. His inner circle will not understand it if he does otherwise, and the lack of a tough response will be seen as a sign of weakness. So he will have to show his claws after all.

And challenging Biden to a debate (from a person who has never taken part in one, and hopes that the challenge will not be accepted) is not Putin showing claws. That’s the peace-loving Putin who is offering a compromise.

New Russian world.

It’s curious that a day after the US president’s insult, not all of the Russian leader’s ardent supporters stood up for him. So where is the reaction from the patriotic community? Where are the regime’s proxies? Where is [pro-Kremlin TV show host] Nikita Sergeyevich [Mikhalkov], where is [patriotic song] performer [Oleg] Gazmanov? They’re neither seen nor heard – apparently, they were told to keep mum. Why isn’t anyone picketing the American Embassy yet? Don’t labor collectives all over the country care that their leader was called a killer? Why is Valentina Tereshkova, the coauthor of the new Constitution, keeping quiet? I don’t doubt that the righteous indignation fest is going to kick off any minute now. And once it does, we’re in for it.

Many analysts and commentators have quite rightly pointed out that we are due for an inevitable tightening of the screws in domestic policy. They will imprison us more often and beat us harder, while any attempts to express public opposition (for instance, during an election campaign) will be nipped in the bud by removing certain candidates from the running in advance. And all these atrocities will be coupled with a sharp ideologization of the public space intended to exalt the leader, our only guarantor of national sovereignty in a hostile world. Criticism of Putin will become tantamount to treason, and dissenters will either face repressions or get expelled from the country (all you need to do is change a few lines in the Constitution). Vladimir Putin will not appear in public often. I think that we will see the rough outlines of a new Russian world in the next Message to the Federal Assembly, which is currently being hastily rewritten.