In a wide-ranging speech to Russia’s Federal Assembly on Thursday, roughly the equivalent of the State of the Union address in the U.S., President Vladimir Putin blamed the United States for the current turmoil in the Middle East, insulted the leadership of Turkey and announced that he has extended by six month an amnesty period that allows criminals and oligarchs to bring wealth hidden overseas back to Russia.
Putin delivered his remarks in a week that has been marked by an increasingly tense war of words between Russia and Turkey, follow the decision by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to order the downing of a Russian bomber that reportedly strayed into Turkish airspace for 17 seconds during operations on the Syrian border.
On Wednesday, officials from the Russian Ministry of Defense gave a major press conference in which they claimed to present proof that the terror group ISIS has been earning millions of dollars a day shipping oil stolen from Iraq and Syria into Turkey for resale abroad. Further, the Kremlin alleged that Erdogan and his family are personally involved.
The Turkish president angrily denied all the accusations, but on Thursday Putin repeated them, with the additional suggestion that Erdogan and other Turkish leaders were being subjected to some sort of divine punishment that has impaired their judgment.
Speaking of the decision to shoot down the plane, which resulted in the death of one of its pilots as well as a marine killed in a rescue attempt, he said, “We will never forget their collusion with terrorists. We have always deemed betrayal the worst and most shameful thing to do, and that will never change. I would like them to remember this – those in Turkey who shot our pilots in the back, those hypocrites who tried to justify their actions and cover up for terrorists.
“I don’t even understand why they did it. Any issues they might have had, any problems, any disagreements we knew nothing about could have been settled in a different way. Plus, we were ready to cooperate with Turkey on all the most sensitive issues it had; we were willing to go further, where its allies refused to go. Allah only knows, I suppose, why they did it. And probably, Allah has decided to punish the ruling clique in Turkey by taking their mind and reason.”
Putin’s criticism wasn’t reserved for Turkey. Without directly naming the United States, he nevertheless made it clear that he was accusing the U.S. of being responsible for the current state of chaos across the Middle East.
“Terrorism is a growing threat today. The Afghanistan problem has not been resolved. The situation there is alarming and gives us no optimism, while some of the relatively peaceful and stable countries in the Middle East and North Africa – Iraq, Libya and Syria – have now plunged into chaos and anarchy that pose a threat to the whole world.
“We all know why that happened. We know who decided to oust the unwanted regimes and brutally impose their own rules. Where has this led them? They stirred up trouble, destroyed the countries’ statehood, set people against each other, and then ‘washed their hands,’, as we say in Russia, thus opening the way to radical activists, extremists and terrorists.”
A less friendly audience might have noted the irony of a leader whose own troops recently invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and are currently supporting violent rebellion in the eastern part of Ukraine protesting U.S. intervention in other countries. But that didn’t happen in the Kremlin on Thursday.
Finally, Putin renewed his plea that Russians with large mounts of capital held overseas return it, extending an amnesty program for six months and suggesting that the its terms – which allow capital to be brought back to Russia with no questions asked – would be loosened even further.
“Last year we announced the so-called capital amnesty to return financial assets to Russia,” he said. “Yet, businesses seem in no hurry to take advantage of that opportunity, which suggests that the procedure proposed is too complicated, while guarantees it provides are still insufficient.”
To be clear, here are the guarantees as Putin described them in the same speech last year:
“If a person legalizes his holdings and property in Russia, he will receive firm legal guarantees that he will not be summoned to various agencies, including law enforcement agencies, that they will not ‘put the squeeze’ on him, that he will not be asked about the sources of his capital and methods of its acquisition, that he will not be prosecuted or face administrative liability, and that he will not be questioned by the tax service or law enforcement agencies. We all understand that the sources of assets are different, that they were earned or acquired in various ways. However, I am confident that we should finally close, turn the ‘offshore page’ in the history of our economy and our country. It is very important and necessary to do this.”
At the time, experts in money laundering enforcement agreed that the object of the policy was plainly to encourage criminals and oligarchs who had moved massive amounts of cash overseas to bring that money back home.
Apparently, it hasn’t been working.
Putin is riding a bit of a high right now, with his actions against ISIS in Syria beginning to win him at least limited approval in Western Europe. But any leader in the position of begging criminals to bring their money home can’t be standing on the firmest of footing.