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by John Helmer, Moscow

Not in his entire life has President Vladimir Putin made a speech like Monday’s Donbass address to the Russian people.   

Nor has he ever named the Americans to be Russia’s national enemy in such unequivocal Russian terms – American promises worthless, American intentions deadly, American speeches lies, American actions intimidation, extortion, blackmail.  

“So I want to ask”, Putin said: “why, why all this, for what? Okay, you don’t want to see us as a friend and ally, but why make us an enemy? There is only one answer: it’s not about our political regime, it’s not about anything else, they just don’t need such a large independent country as Russia. That’s the answer to all the questions. This is the source of traditional American policy towards Russia.”

“The pretext for another sanctions attack will always be found or simply fabricated, regardless of the situation in Ukraine. There is only one goal – to restrain the development of Russia. And they will do it as they did before, even without any formal pretext at all, just because we are and will never give up our sovereignty, national interests and our values.”

Unlike the most famous of English and American mobilization speeches against French, German and Confederate enemies – King Henry’s Agincourt, Winston Churchill’s Dunkirk, and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg speeches – Putin didn’t wave his arms or move significantly his head, neck, shoulders, or right hand.  Putin’s right hand is the operational one.

Watch and listen. The stillness of the body language, the pauses for breathing, the speech pitch, pace and modulation – these mean to all Russians: Do or die — now we do for ourselves or else the Americans will kill us.

Putin spoke for 55 minutes, 48 seconds – Shakespeare’s Henry V spoke for just over two minutes; Lincoln for less than that; Churchill for 20 minutes.  

Watch: Laurence Olivier’s wartime (1944) version.
Read Lincoln’s speech  and a glimpse of him on the speaker’s platform.  Read Churchill’s address to the House of Commons.  Listen to a 2-minute excerpt.  

The Pentagon has been using body language and voice techniques to spy on Putin for years. Timothy Colton, the US Naval War College agent doubling as a Harvard professor, was exposed in 2015 after several years of paid secret work; read the details here.   Colton has also been the biographer of Boris Yeltsin, a work celebrated as a “masterpiece”  by the US officials who once controlled Yeltsin. Yeltsin was unnamed in Putin’s speech, but all Russian listeners understand that he was meant in Putin’s accusations of “historic, strategic mistakes”, “pandering to the ambitions of the nationalist elites”; “injustices, lies and outright pillage.”

“Against the backdrop of the superficial and populist rhetoric about democracy and a bright future based either on a market or a planned economy, but amid a true impoverishment of people and widespread shortages, no one among the powers that be was thinking about the inevitable tragic consequences for the country… The collapse of the historical Russia known as the USSR is on their conscience.” For “market” Putin means the Yeltsin group, the two ranking officials who belong to it – Anatoly Chubais and Alexei Kudrin — are still alive, along with the oligarchs they created. For “planned economy” Putin refers to Mikhail Gorbachev whom he has condemned as well. For “conscience” Putin means hypocrisy.

The qualifier: “Of course, we cannot change past events, but we must at least admit them openly and honestly, without any reservations or politicking. Personally, I can add that no political factors, however impressive or profitable they may seem at any given moment, can or may be used as the fundamental principles of statehood. I am not trying to put the blame on anyone.”

Analysis of Putin’s body language and verbal cues on behalf of the secret services by Colton and his colleagues has not discouraged the hospitality which has been shown to Colton by the Valdai Club, the Kremlin-financed platform.  The reason Putin has just announced openly. For the traditional American reason the Russian command believes Colton’s capacity to threaten is limited by his incapacity to comprehend.

Count Putin’s head, neck, and shoulder movements and measure them against the vertical and horizontal axes. Head movements left and right are restricted within 5 degrees of the vertical;  there is almost no kinesis of the head forward or back; no neck rotation;  and apart from a couple of left shrugs, Putin’s shoulders remain immobile and at rest on the horizontal for all 55 minutes. This is an unusually long time.

Movement psychologists diagnose these features as indicating on the one hand a combination of internal control and confidence in what is being said; on the other hand, the commitment to reassure the listener.

Putin does not stumble in speech, mispronounce or misread his teleprompter lines. Speaking without a glass of water for an hour, he clears his throat very rarely. His breathing intakes are short, regular, and without the diaphragmatic discipline of the Stanislavsky stage method; in short, natural. The pitch and modulation of his voice remain steady without many peaks of emphasis or emotion. But the president does something he has exhibited very rarely — he breathes out in audible sighs. This is a display of regret, sadness. For the Russian audience this is attractive because it is human.

For his emphases Putin employs as few of his moving parts as he can. This signifies a high degree of self-control without nervousness. Instead, he uses his hands, the right more than the left, to anchor his body. When he wants to underline a verbal point, there is no agitation of the arms nor tension in the fingers on the table. His gestures – either single-handed or double-handed – illustrate the military threats Putin is discussing from the US, the NATO alliance, and from Ukrainian territory.  

Left:  “a truly fatal document, the so-called ethnic policy of the party in modern conditions”.  2nd  from left: “blackmailing the West to secure preferences by claiming that otherwise Russia would have a bigger influence in Ukraine”. 3rd from left: “we got five waves of NATO enlargement one after another….” 4th from left: “It's called, rightly, ‘the knife to the throat’”. Right: “they are trying to blackmail us, again threatening us with sanctions, which, by the way, they will still introduce as Russia's sovereignty strengthens”. 

The last time the United States faced an enemy as calm,  unmoving, disciplined, and confident was in the Vietnam War. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and deputy Victoria Nuland were less than eight years old at the time; National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had not been born.

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