Biden vs. Putin: Symbols Matter
How political stagecraft influences statecraft
A common critique of political analysis is that it amounts to theater criticism, evaluating how political speech is presented, rather than its content. This criticism is not wholly without merit. However, as U.S. president Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin gave dueling speeches about 800 miles away from each other, the symbolism mattered much more than what was said.
Since Ukraine launched a major offensive in September, there hasn't been much territorial change in the war. Kyiv has retaken about half the territory Russia took since February, and Russia has held on to the rest.
Speeches, in and of themselves, won’t change that. However, the symbolism of both leaders spoke volumes. Biden undertook a daring and secret trip to Kyiv ahead of a speech in Warsaw, while Putin rehashed the same thing he has said since last year about the war. In the absence of substantive military offensives, symbolism matters for morale.
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