The Guardian 21 February, 2007

Putin blasts US policies:
signals end of Russian retreat


Russian President Vladimir Putinís frontal attack on the aggressive policies of the US must be seen as a warning to Washington amid mounting fears that the Pentagon was gearing for yet another war ó against Iran.

Putin hammered home this message with stunning bluntness at an annual security conference in Munich two weeks ago before an audience of 250 top officials and political leaders from around the world. The global missile defence system developed by the US would "give it a free hand to launch, not only local, but global conflicts."

Putin questioned the wisdom of Russia continuing to abide by the 1999-revised Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe at a time when NATO countries refused to ratify it and the US was setting up frontline military bases on Russiaís borders in Bulgaria and Romania.

He said that Europe, by toeing the American line of trying to encircle Russia, was fraught with new confrontation and was against the best interests of the continent.

Fifteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow has declared loud and clear that the unipolar world is dead. Russia is back as a global power.

He told the United States that its global leadership had been a disaster and it had no business staying in the driving seat.

"An almost unrestrained hyper-use of force in international relations" was breeding conflict after conflict and fuelling the arms race, with more countries seeking weapons of mass destruction to defend themselves against US diktats, Mr Putin said. "Unilateral, illegitimate military actions" have not resolved even a single problem, and on the contrary, have created more human tragedies and more hotbeds of tension."

"We witness growing trampling of fundamental principles of international law", Mr Putin said. "One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders to impose its laws and its entire legal system on other states in all spheres ó economic, political and humanitarian. Who will like it?"

"This is very dangerous," Mr Putin continued as shocked Western leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, listened with glum faces.

"Nobody feels safe anymore because nobody can find shelter behind the stone wall of international law. This policy fuels the arms race [and] pushes countries to get weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, new threats that have been around for some time, such as terrorism, are acquiring global dimensions."

Mr Putin underscored the new geopolitical reality of the world becoming multi-polar.

He pointed out that the combined GDP of India and China based on purchasing power parity was already bigger than that of the US, while Brazil, Russia, India, and China had between them a larger GDP than the European Union. "There is no doubt that in the foreseeable future the economic potential of these new centres of power will inevitably get converted into political clout and will strengthen multi-polarity."

A resounding confirmation of Putinís words came a day later when the Russian leader travelled to the Persian Gulf to forge political and energy alliances and sell arms to some of the closest allies of the US in the region ó Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan. At the same time the Foreign Ministers of India, Russia, and China met in New Delhi to discuss closer interaction in a trilateral format.

He has repeatedly said that Russia is a European nation even if its larger part lies in Asia and that Russians are Europeans by their culture and mentality.

One of the main goals of Mr Putinís presidency has been to forge a strategic partnership with the EU on the basis of Russian energy supplies. Europe is Russiaís top trade partner and main consumer of its natural gas, which accounts for 26 per cent of its needs. Mr Putin has sought to tie Europe closer to Russia through mutual investment, visa-free travel, and defence cooperation.

Washington has fiercely opposed Russia-Europe integration as it threatens to weaken the American grip on Europe.

Europe divided

Europe is split on the issue of relations with Russia, with the US-backed "new Europeans" (former socialist states) advocating a hard-line to Russia and "old Europeans" (western European states) favouring closer cooperation. Old Europe has also distanced itself from Washington on such issues as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Europe has a choice of either continuing to support Americaís evil and doomed cause at its own risk or joining Russia and other rising powers in shaping a multi-polar world.

"I am convinced that we have reached that decisive moment when we must seriously think about the architecture of global security", he said, stressing that Russia needed "responsible and independent partners" to build a better world where there would be "security and prosperity for all, rather than for a selected few."

For the last 15 years, the West has been cheating and lying to Russia on security issues seeking unilateral advantages. Mr Putin recalled that way back in 1990 the NATO General Secretary promised there would be no NATO forces beyond Germany. What happened to those promises, he asked.

He said that the continuing eastward expansion of NATO was "a serious provocative factor that eroded mutual trust."

The Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had been converted into "a vulgar instrument for advancing foreign policy goals of one country or a group of countries against other countries". The global missile defence system developed by the US would "give it a free hand to launch, not only local, but global conflicts."

Retreat over

The proposed deployment of US missile interceptors in Europe to neutralise Russiaís nuclear arsenals would trigger "another inevitable arms race," he warned.

Resurgent Russia would work to restore the global balance of power. Mr Putin said Russia was building missiles capable of overcoming US defences and hinted at resuming the production of medium-range missiles that inspired awe in Europe before they were banned under a 1987 Soviet-US arms reduction treaty.

Speaking of the Iran nuclear issue, the Russian leader stressed that the international community should address the concerns of Iran as it seeks a solution to Tehranís nuclear crisis. "We should not corner Iran into a hostile environment. There is no evidence, after all, that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons", he said.

US politicians were quick to dismiss Mr Putinís address as "unnecessary bravado" that failed to drive a wedge between Europe and the US.

However, early European reactions showed Mr Putinís speech may have deepened the split between "new" and "old" Europe. While Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg thanked Mr Putin for his criticism because he "clearly and convincingly argued why NATO should be enlarged", others, especially in Germany, welcomed it.

On the other hand the Chairman of the German Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee Ruprecht Polenz said "many would agree with Putin over his opposition to US plans to deploy the antimissile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic."

A poll conducted in Germany after Mr Putinís speech showed that two in three Germans supported his view that the US was on a mission to become the worldís "one single master"; at the same time, they were not concerned about a stronger Russian military.

"America, the all-powerful, finds its hands tied by new rivals" wrote Britainís Financial Times in a comment on Putinís speech.

From The Hindu

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