MOSCOW — Thousands of Russians in the public squares of Moscow and Crimea waited for President Vladimir Putin to appear before them on Wednesday night and congratulate the nation on “the first anniversary of Crimea and Sevastopol's reunification with Russia.”
In spite of great expectations in Crimea’s centers of Simferopol and Sevastopol, Putin did not visit the peninsula. Instead, he showed up in Red Square, before a throng of his fans. With a light smile on his lips, the president, in a white shirt and a black overcoat, walked on to the stage in the relaxed manner of a self-confident super man.
The present’s voice boomed above a crowd of what police estimated at about 110,000 people: “We ourselves will continue moving forward,” he said. “We will strengthen our statehood and our country. We will overcome the difficulties that we have created for ourselves lately.”
Putin did not clarify which particular difficulties he meant and who had created them, leaving Russia to guess. Was Putin talking about economic issues caused by the Crimea annexation and the Russian-backed war in eastern Ukraine? Did the president mean his own week-long mysterious disappearance earlier this month? It surely gave Russian and foreign observers a reason for wildest fantasies. Or was it the complicated investigation of Chechens involved in the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov that caused "the difficulties"?
Putin’s long-time interviewer, the editor in chief of radio Echo of Moscow, Aleksei Venediktov , was “amazed” by Putin’s line. “Putin with his presidential experience longer than any other European leader, does not take seriously the lousy Russian TV channels' propaganda, saying that everything is just perfect in Russia,” Venediktov told The Daily Beast. “His words concerned post-Crimea consequences; the phrasing was a peculiar combination of hints and truth that he sincerely believed in.”
Putin is aware that "the difficulties" caused by Crimea’s annexation would hurt Russia for years ahead, said, Venediktov.
On Wednesday night, big video screens on Sevastopol’s main Nakhimov Square showed the massive celebration in Mocow’s Red Square. While Putin was making his speech and even singing the Russian anthem, happy Crimea residents began to cheer, jump up, dance and chant, praising him. “We love you, Putin!”
“We are together!” two young women shouted with their happy faces turned to the video screens. A few parents were dancing with kids on their shoulders, old and young couples hugged each other, many waved Russian flags and balloons. The joy radiated from dozens of faces (some more sober than the others). A middle-aged woman, Valentina Gerasimova, cried big tears: “I feel sad that neither my parents, nor my husband lived to witness this historical moment,” she told The Daily Beast.
As with most Russians, Gerasimova did not have any clue what Putin meant when he talked of Russia’s "difficulties." She was happy to see him, she said. It was not a surprise for anyone, that there was a wide range of difficulties for Russia to overcome: corrupt bureaucrats, censorship, assassinations of famous public figures, dependent and non-transparent courts, environmental issues.
“Russia has tons of problems to deal with,” Yevgenia Chirikova, the leader of the environmentalist Khimki Forest Movement, told The Daily Beast. “I personally have no interest in Putin’s speeches, as I monitor health-threatening pollution in Moscow, where air smells of sulfur. I am concerned about my children’s health, as with no rains this spring, we are most probably going to have fire in Moscow region this summer and we do not see that our authorities are doing anything to prevent that,” Chirikova said.
How important was the Crimea anniversary to Putin himself?
In spite of all the criticism and sanctions, Putin’s appearance in Red Square on Wednesday was a “triumph” carefully planned in advance, Venediktov told The Daily Beast. “As far as I know, Putin considers Crimea’s annexation his own achievement; he thinks that he has established historical fairness,” Venediktov added.