February 12, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Yaroslav Butakov


Unwilling to answer Putin's questions the West makes a sad face

Vladimir Putin's speech at the Munich Conference on Security Policy irritated key officials on both sides of the Atlantic. U.S. Senator John McCain, a well known "supporter of Russia" called Putin's words "the most aggressive speech of any Russian leader since the end of the Cold War". His colleague Joe Lieberman found it "provocative", "an echo of the Cold War". Pentagon chief Robert M. Gates, who three days prior to the Munich conference added Russia to the list of countries in which the US should be ready to conduct widespread military operations, also gave the "Cold War" analogy and added that some aspects of Russian foreign policy, such as "weapons transfer and use of energy resources as a political lever", "contradict international stability". Finally, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer found the President's words "inconsistent with the atmosphere of NATO-Russia cooperation".

So what was it that Putin said that caused such an upheaval?

First of all he openly stated that Russia has no intention of calmly watching NATO increase its military presence near our borders. Not long ago, in late winter 2006 the UN Secretary General with a virtually non-pronounceable surname visited Russia, where he assured everyone that no NATO bases would be built in the countries that recently joined the alliance. Now, several months later, it turns out that this isn't the case. Or perhaps the Secretary General considers an Antiballistic missile system deployment base as a different type of military object? As Vladimir Putin said at the conference:

"NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended?"

Not long ago Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov stated in a speech before the Duma called the 1986 agreement between Gorbachev and Reagan to disassemble close and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Europe "a major error". These rockets were useful as a lever against military attack, while ABM is not very effective against them. Nowadays reviving their production may help hinder US military expansion along our borders. We couldn't threaten the US with these weapons, but we might be able to curb the interest of American satellites-neophytes formerly under Soviet rule in the establishment of an American Anti-missile "umbrella".

Ivanov raised the question of reviewing the treaty regarding close and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRN treaty) in Alaska last year, at a meeting with then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Ivanov reminded his colleague of the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2002; hence Russia's withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty should not be unprecedented. Ivanov was forced to remember intermediate-range forces because the US had built another acquisition radar station of its ABM system in … Alaska.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), regarding strategic offensive arms, expires in 2009. The authors of an article recently published in the American journal Stratfor note: "The START-1 treaty helped Russia maintain its position during the decline of our nuclear capability. Therefore, Russia is more than interested in a new deal to limit strategic arms, while the US is satisfied with the current state of affairs, as the fall of the USSR sufficiently curbed Russia's rocket power. Russia is no longer a threat to the US, so there is no need for a new treaty that will "limit" the US's strategic options. And they can't wait for 2009 to roll around, when they'll be free to do as they please in expanding and modifying their nuclear arsenal.

Building new intermediate-range ballistic missiles won't make Russia the superpower it once was, but will help broaden its strategic options. Intermediate-range missiles were always more important for us than for the United States, as we are close to Iran, Pakistan, India, China and North Korea, all of whom have such weapons.

Ivanov's words make sense in the light of the expiration of the treaty in 2009. Russia is capable if building next-generation intermediate range ballistic missiles that will help it stay strong and hold its ground".

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer shouldn't be complaining about Putin's supposed departure from a policy of cooperation with the Alliance. Did he expect Russia to swallow any action that threatens our homeland security? The Russian President openly expressed that we would no longer tolerate such behavior, and this is what most irritated Western leaders (they still recall Russia's submissive actions under Yeltsin).

Another major point of Putin's speech was his condemnation of the United States' policy of forcefully exporting their standards to other countries and of creating a unipolar world:

"We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?" "It is world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within. <…> I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today's world. <...> the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilization."

Russian officials commented on the President's speech only to say that it was not meant ro provoke a confrontation. Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Ivanov said that "our relations with the EU and The US are stable enough so that we are able to openly express our opinions and ask questions that we need answered, without hypocrisy or a Cold war philosophy." He noted that after the formal end of the Cold war hundreds of thousands of people perished in military conflicts in "hot spots" all over the world. Therefore we must conclude that the Russian leadership considers a parity balance between two superpowers far more conductive to international stability than the US hegemony of today.

President Putin merely expressed what was already obvious to everyone else. The Cold War didn't end with the break-up of the USSR. In the current situation we have no choice but to realize the threat to our security and take countermeasures. And we're not against equal partnerships, in which we are being offered something of equal value to what we are providing, but not deals that stifle our interests. If viewed from the sidelines it may seem surprising that such a natural position is so aggravating to our "partners". But this only proves that they still view Russia as their top enemy!

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