How do the Ukrainians feel about Vladimir Putin?

Opinion: Vladimir Putin is counting on renewed aid from the EU

Russian President Vladimir Putin likes to think of himself as invincible. In his annual State of the Union address to both Houses of Parliament, the 68-year-old compared those who dare to stand up to the Kremlin with the jackal Tabaqui from Rudyard Kipling's classic "The Jungle Book".

"There are all kinds of little tabaquis hanging around Shir Khan and howling to appease their ruler," Putin said, referring to a man-eating tiger, the main antagonist of the Jungle Book - a not really subtle nod to the relationship between the two USA and its allies, seen from the Kremlin's perspective. Although he didn't say it, the Russian ruler sees himself as Mowgli, the main hero of the book, who triumphs over the tiger.

Not a word about Ukraine

The audience, made up of the regime's compliant apparatchik, rewarded this comparison with submissive laughter and applause. Putin also promised a "devastating" response to those who trample on Russian interests. This was probably the most memorable moment of a speech that otherwise - in a year when the State Duma is being re-elected - was mainly devoted to plans for a multitude of new social expenditures.

In the run-up to the event in the Manege, an exhibition hall in the vicinity of the Kremlin, it was speculated that Putin would escalate the conflict with Ukraine and propose that the separatist "republic" in the Kremlin-controlled eastern Ukraine be officially recognized.

Citing the massive deployment of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, some analysts warned that a large-scale invasion could be imminent. The plan is to occupy the rest of eastern and southern Ukraine in order to ensure an uninterrupted fresh water supply for the arid Crimea. But Putin didn't even mention Ukraine on Wednesday.

Lukashenko's rescue is a priority

In his address, he expressly agreed with the assertion of the Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko that there was a plot by the West to kill Lukashenko and his family. This was uncovered with the help of Putin's security services. True or not, this claim at least agrees with Putin's belief that the West is ultimately after him too.

Konstantin Eggert is a Russian journalist

The Belarusian dictator will meet Putin in Moscow on Thursday. Rumors immediately arose that Lukashenko would either ask Putin to send Russian troops to Belarus to protect it from "NATO conspiracies" or to merge the two countries directly.

Either way, Putin will be happy to provide his authoritarian counterpart with "brotherly assistance" - especially since he does not have to fear a reaction from the West. The ineffective sanctions by the EU and the USA against the Minsk regime have meanwhile made Putin convinced that Brussels and Washington have long since given up the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.

Gentle pressure on Kiev

With the stationing of Russian armed forces in Belarus, the Kremlin would create a new bridgehead on the northern border of Ukraine - not far from the capital Kiev. This not only increases the pressure on the Ukrainian leadership, but also the chance that Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron will enter the scene and offer their mediation - Putin has learned that he can always count on that.

What Putin ultimately wants is that Merkel and Macron take on the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj in order to wrest a few concessions from him - if not the reopening of the important drinking water pipeline from the city of Kherson to Crimea or the lifting of the ban on pro-Russian television channels in the Ukraine , then at least a public commitment to the Minsk Agreement.

Father Putin

Judging from his address, Putin wants to focus on playing the father figure - a father figure that Russians can rely on and who will once and for all crush those who oppose him, especially Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his own Pendant.

Putin's speech on Wednesday sounded like a signal to the West: as long as he is allowed to do his thing within his empire - to suppress the opposition and maintain influence over Belarus - he may stop interfering in Ukraine. Especially when Ukraine is finally made to "behave". But, as with anything to do with Putin, there is a risk that this, too, is just a sham.

This text was adapted from the English by Felix Steiner