Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to give a highly anticipated speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Monday as relations with the West have fallen to their worst since the end of the Cold War. Dive into the psyche of the Russian leader with this handy guide to his favorite foreign policy rhetoric.
1. Syria – This is the gimme. Syria and a proposed anti-Islamic State coalition are widely expected to be the main focus of Putin's speech, making it the center square of our bingo.
2. The expansion of NATO – Putin has portrayed NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union as an act of Western aggression and an attempt to encircle Russia. Putin will likely say that NATO is a destabilizing force in Europe, and may add that the West broke a (disputed) 1990 promise that NATO would not expand "one inch to the east" if a reunified Germany joined the military alliance.
3. Provocation – A popular, flexible Russian word that can mean anything from a biased news article to a false-flag military attack. Basically, it is something that makes you look bad. In Russia's conspiratorial worldview, provocations are everywhere. Putin sees them, too.
4. Terrorists with foreign backing – Expect Putin to accuse the United States and Europe of backing some of the Islamist groups fighting in Syria. Putin has previously accused the West of orchestrating the Color Revolutions of the early 2000s (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan), the Arab Spring, and the 2014 revolution in Ukraine that overthrew President Viktor Yanukovych.
5. Multipolar world order – For almost a decade, Putin has regularly called for a new "multipolar" world order that includes the rise of new centers of power, including China and India, as an alternative to a perceived U.S. hegemony.
6. Anti-sanctions – We are fairly sure that Putin will attack the United States' use of sanctions as a tool of international pressure (his foreign minister said so). So to keep it interesting, let's see if he mentions the Russian tit-for-tat response: banning many food imports from the European Union and United States, a measure that was meant to punish Western farmers but also drove up inflation in Russia. Collectively, Russia has called the measures "anti-sanctions."
7. Our Western partners – A needling, ironic phrase that Putin enjoys using for countries that, at least for the moment, are definitely not his partners.
8. National interests – Russia has deflected criticism of its actions in Ukraine by saying it must defend its national interests. Expect Putin to use the U.N. stage to tell the West to mind its own business.
9. Information war – A shorthand accusing Western news agencies and other media of harboring anti-Russian bias. This term came into vogue during the height of the fighting in Ukraine, but Putin has believed the Western media is out to get him since long before that.
10. Superpower or hegemony – Putin regularly attacks the United States as a global hegemony and says that Russia has no aspirations to become a superpower.
11. Historical justice (in Crimea) – Not a good bet in a speech where Putin wants to avoid Ukraine, but if he does mention Crimea, expect him to discuss the annexation through the lens of the peninsula’s (disputed) referendum and the restoration of “historical justice” by returning Russian control over the region.
12. Western intervention – Expect Putin to rail against the results of Western intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and portray that as a key motivation to back Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria.
13. Ferguson – There's an outside chance. Putin mentioned Ferguson in an interview with Charlie Rose that aired last week to deflect criticism about Russia's democratic shortcomings. He could do the same in Monday's speech. You could call this an example of Whataboutism.
14. "We defeated the Nazis together" – An appeal to historical solidarity between Russia and the West that Putin uses in many of his international appearances.
15. Sovereignty – A staple of Putin's speeches since the beginning of his presidency and the closest thing he has to a concrete foreign policy doctrine. For Putin, sovereignty is the principle that rejects the Arab Spring and Color Revolutions, as he portrays those revolutions as products of foreign intervention (see "Terrorists with Foreign Backing").
16. American exceptionalism – A dark horse. Putin made a dig at American exceptionalism in his 2013 New York Times op-ed about Syria, calling it "dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation." The argument went that people who view themselves as exceptional believe they are above international law. With Putin's sudden return to the Syria crisis, we shall see if he picks up that narrative again.
17. Refugee crisis – Another no-brainer. Putin knows that the refugee crisis is putting pressure on Europe to make a deal on Syria. Expect him to address this explicitly.
18. Donald Trump – Trump has said he would like to meet Putin in New York, but Putin's spokesman said that the Russian president would likely not have time. Expect Putin to play the Trump card if he wants to take a jab at the upcoming U.S. elections.
19. Russian spirituality/"spiritual staples" – To deflect Western criticism of some of his government's more illiberal policies, Putin has said that Russia’s unique cultural and historical development should be respected. In particular, he has used this claim to respond to attacks over anti-gay rights legislation passed in Russia in 2013. Putin coined a peculiar phrase, "spiritual staples," which, to many Russians, still sounds strange.
20. Fascism – The painful, collective and still-raw memory in Russia of World War II can make a reference to fascism a compelling argument here. It is often used as an umbrella term for far-right extremists and radicals in Europe, and Putin is likely to employ it.
21. Import substitution – This would probably play better with Russians than world leaders, but Putin may try to brag about Russia's self-sufficiency and its ability to withstand U.S. economic pressure (and the destructiveness of its own anti-sanctions policies). Import substitution, replacing imports with domestically produced substitutes, is an integral part of that policy.
22. Yalta – At the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, expect Putin to wax historical. The Yalta conference, attended by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in February 1945, helped define the post-war European order and was an important step toward the founding of the United Nations. Some political commentators have said that Putin now wants a "new Yalta" agreement that will define Russia's sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Russia annexed Yalta, along with the rest of the Crimean peninsula, last March.
23. Sochi Olympics – Putin might mention the 2014 Sochi Olympics as a status symbol heralding Russia's resurgence. The end of the games was largely overshadowed by the Ukrainian revolution, but the opening ceremonies "bordered on colossal."
24. Nukes – With references to the new Cold War swirling and the recent conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal, it's a solid bet that Putin will discuss nuclear nonproliferation at least in passing.
25. Cold War – Is it the new Cold War or isn't it? Putin has generally rejected this term, as have many Western leaders, but the sudden chill in relations between Russia and the West make this the go-to comparison. Expect him to bring this up, if only to knock it down.