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Dissidence is dangerous in Russia. Can we measure true reaction to Putin's speech?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The many people listening to Russia's president included Sergey Radchenko, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University who studies Russia and joins us today from Italy. Welcome back to the program.

SERGEY RADCHENKO: Morning to you.

INSKEEP: What did you make of Putin's speech?

RADCHENKO: Well, the speech had a part of it that was facing internally and part that was facing externally. Charles just mentioned that emphasis on the unity of the Russian people in favor of the war, etc., etc. But he also talked about how the state will support the veterans of the conflict, how they will be reintegrated into the society. And there was also a very interesting part directed at the oligarchs, whom he sort of laughed about, that they hoped that their assets would not be confiscated from them and now see what happened, so they should just come back to Russia and be more patriotic. And I think that part was directed at the Russian audience because that would necessarily be popular with the Russians. But the external part Charles mentioned at the end was, of course...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

RADCHENKO: ...About suspending Russia's participation in the New START treaty, which I think is a very, very serious development.

INSKEEP: Couple of things to follow up on there - when you said his remark about the oligarchs, somewhat mocking them for leaving the country, we're talking about wealthy Russians who, in fact were driven out or perhaps for their own safety have had to leave the country, right?

RADCHENKO: Well, he is talking about Russian oligarchs being sanctioned in the West. He's basically saying, well, they hope that they would not be sanctioned, and now they are losing their money. Isn't that funny how they're losing their yachts, etc.? So why don't they come back to Russia and be more patriotic? That is the kind of message that a lot of Russians will applaud.

INSKEEP: Oh, because it's populist. But let me ask about that also. When he thanks everyone for their solidarity, is he describing what's really happening in Russia or asking and hoping that everyone is really behind him still?

RADCHENKO: Well, he is hoping that everyone is behind him. He did say that there was, you know, overwhelming support for the war or special military operation, as he calls it. And what's interesting as well is he did not provide an endgame. He's basically saying here, we will continue. We will continue until we fulfill our aims step by step, carefully and consistently, is what he said. But there was no endgame.

INSKEEP: Was there any response to far-right Russian nationalists who have openly criticized the war in recent months?

RADCHENKO: No, there was nothing to this effect. In fact, he completely skipped any kind of mention of potential conflict within the Russian society or within the ruling elite, but nor was this expected. You know, his purpose was to project this unity, strength, etc., etc. He claimed that Russian economy is doing fabulously well and will now, you know, proceed to new heights.

INSKEEP: OK, well, he can say that, I suppose. But you mentioned something else that you said was quite serious, that Russia is suspending participation in the New START nuclear arms treaty. Do we suppose that the Russian government has lined up a list of responses on hand for various things the United States would do, and this is today's response?

RADCHENKO: I think this is probably the response. I mean, what this effectively means is the end of the nuclear arms control regime because, you know, what does it mean to suspend participation? Effectively, it means quitting the treaty, although maybe technically not. So that is - that opens up a potential for a new nuclear arms race. But is Russia prepared for it? That is my question. You know, of course, this is a big question for nuclear stability. But I'm worried whether Putin is shooting himself in the foot here. He usually does.

INSKEEP: He usually does shoot himself in the foot, you're saying? Well, I suppose that does raise a question because it is said that it is better for nuclear powers to be talking than not talking, that just the act of talking can lower tensions. Are they just - is this a sign of danger for that reason?

RADCHENKO: I think so. It is very important to continue this conversation forcing - you know, for strategic stability. We haven't seen much in this area in recent months because of the war. So I am worried about it. I mean, this - danger of escalation remains, and I think that's something that we should all be worried about.

INSKEEP: Sergey Radchenko from Johns Hopkins University, thanks very much for your analysis once again.

RADCHENKO: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.