Putin speech delay shows unease over control of Ukraine war information, says ISW

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By Alasdair Sandford
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks at an end-of-year press conference in 2021.
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks at an end-of-year press conference in 2021.   -   Copyright  Credit: AFP

Vladimir Putin's decision to put off until next year a major annual speech to the Russian parliament suggests he "remains uncertain of his ability to shape the Russian information space" as his war in Ukraine continues to crumble, according to a US think tank.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) notes the "increasing criticism of his conduct of the invasion of Ukraine".

In a report published on Wednesday evening, the institute says Putin's plans to declare victory have been scuppered by Russian military failures. The withdrawal from the Kyiv region and northern Ukraine was followed by failure to control territories that had been declared as annexed.

It is the first time in a decade that Putin will have failed to deliver the annual address at the end of the year.

In 2014 Putin "seized the opportunity" to deliver his "Crimean speech" celebrating the illegal annexation of the Ukrainian territory, and this year "likely anticipated a similar outcome in early spring only to indefinitely postpone the address", the report says. 

"Putin may be still waiting and hoping to deliver a grandiose victory speech in 2023 or postponing the moment when he will have to admit that Russia cannot achieve his frequently restated maximalist aims in Ukraine," according to the ISW.

"Putin may not be confident in his ability to justify the cost of his war upon Russian domestic and global affairs when addressing the Russian public and elites."

The Russian Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly is an annual speech given to the two houses of the Russian parliament, first introduced in 1994. It has been likened to the US president's annual "State of the Union" address.

In recent days the state news agency TASS has reported that Putin's address will not be organised this year, and is likely to be held in 2023.

In a reference to speculation in Russia about the date of the president's speech, the ISW notes that Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov "called on Russians to stop 'fortune-telling with coffee grounds' regarding the timing of the next address".