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Thursday, February 15, 2007

New realities in old Munich

02-13-2007 - MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political correspondent Pyotr Romanov) - The speech Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy has caused a sensation. Some people have compared it to Winston Churchill's Fulton address, which began the Cold War. This is going too far, in my opinion, although Putin's speech did come as a cold shower to Western politicians. Speaking calmly and politely, the Russian leader drew a line under a lengthy period of relations between the West and a Russia weakened by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Putin spoke about unfulfilled Western promises, the unacceptability of NATO's advance to the Russian border, and the drawbacks of the unipolar world "led by Washington," which, to the displeasure of many, is forcing U.S. laws and views of the world onto the international community. He provided indisputable facts in his speech, parts of which were immediately reproduced in the press. The speech itself is on the Internet. In a way, that new Munich has become the antipode of Chamberlain's old Munich, which was a symbol of political weakness and concessions. Speaking on behalf of his country, Putin said firmly that Russia will not yield to Western pressure, but will pursue its own foreign and domestic policies and will respond adequately, though not in kind, to the advance of foreign troops to its borders. The argument that NATO is moving towards Russian borders to protect Europe from rogue countries does not hold water. A look at the map will show you that Iran and North Korea are located thousands of miles away from the Czech Republic and Poland, where U.S. radars and missile bases are being deployed. Russia will not squander money on an expensive and not very reliable ballistic missile defense. Instead, it will try to restore the balance by creating weapons systems capable of avoiding the Western anti-missile umbrella. It is not bluffing, and Europe will surely not gain anything from this situation. On the other hand, certain complaints can be directed at the Kremlin, as a closer look at the "battleground" will show. It is true that the West has not fulfilled the promises it made to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the liquidation of the Warsaw Pact. It is also true that the current U.S. administration is trying to dominate the world. At the same time, sober-minded Western politicians do not want another Cold War, because the interests of Western and Russian businesses have become closely intertwined. But the West would like Russia to be a bit different. Putin's speech in Munich, although it has created repercussions in the West, was delivered in vain. The West does not need a recitation of its sins, which they anyway know by heart, and the speaker, contrary to his audience's expectations, did not say a word about Russia's blunders. As a result, it was like a conversation between the deaf and the mute. The Munich speech has strengthened Western irritation and wariness of Russia, although Putin wanted it to encourage the West to take a critical look at itself. Instead, it has convinced Western politicians that everything they did in the past (like giving false promises) was justified. It is outrageous that the U.S. secretary of defense has put Russia on a par with North Korea. However, opinions of this issue differ. Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a prominent Russian human-rights figure who is neither fanatical nor excessively radical, has said about Gates' statement that Russia is not like North Korea, and the current Kremlin regime is not totalitarian. However, Gates has outlined some alarming trends correctly, Alekseyeva said. Over the last few years, Russia has been strengthening its economy and restoring its military and research capabilities. At the same time, its democratic progress has been stalled, and even reversed in some areas, such as its election legislation. This is one of the reasons why the West is becoming wary of Russia, and wariness is the first step towards fear. The West will draw its own conclusions, while the recommendations for Russia are obvious. It should protect its borders and strengthen its armed forces, but it would also benefit from a second "democratic wave" that should reinforce achievements, correct mistakes, and spur forward movement. This would simplify both the Kremlin's relations with the West and the lives of ordinary Russians. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Munich Speech

Feb. 12, 2007 - Kommersant - Andrey Kolesnikov
// Vladimir Putin tells off the United States
Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke at the Munich Conference on Security Policy on Saturday. Kommersant special correspondent Andrey Kolesnikov found his speech so aggressive in relation to the United States and NATO that the only thing missing was a shoe in his hand to bang on the podium with. The conference began with a speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She was surrounded by friends in the auditorium – the defense heads of the NATO countries, U.S. senators, members of the Bundestag and Europarliament, experts, businessmen from 40 countries… Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was there, listening carefully. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not seem so attentively. He was probably occupied with thoughts of his own upcoming appearance at the podium. It seems that Putin had been preparing for his moment his whole political life. It was a final summation, at least of one stage and he wanted to vent his spleen, that is, express the relationship he has developed with the Western world. He undoubtedly knew exactly what he was doing. Merkel spoke sitting down (unlike Putin). She spoke of NATO as “a strong expression” of international security and stated that the organization was “on the right path” in Afghanistan, even if it is more difficult than we originally thought” in response to a question by Russian State Duma member Konstantin Kosachev. There are areas where it is impossible to come to an agreement with Russia, she said, looking down on the Russian President, who was sitting in the first row, but it would be false to say that they could get along without one another. Putin did not so much as smile. After she took several more questions, she left the stage and was followed by Putin. “If my comments seem unduly polemical, pointed or inexact to our colleagues,” the president began with a warning, “then I would ask you not to get angry with me. After all, this is only a conference. And I hope that after the first two or three minutes of my speech Mr. Teltschik will not turn on the red light over there,” that, is the light that announces the end of an appearance. “The unipolar world that had been proposed after the Cold War did not take place,” Putin informed his audience. “However one might embellish this term, in the end it refers to one type of situation, namely one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making. It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And in the end this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within. And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority.” He made it clear that he would defend democracy to the last. “Incidentally, Russia – we – are constantly being taught about democracy.” He looked around with a smile at the absurdity of the situation. No one smiled back. “But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves… Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centers of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished… And no less people perish in these conflicts – even more are dying than before. Significantly more, significantly more!” The Russian president made use of rhetorical repetitions several times in his speech. “We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law,” he continued. “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?” Eventually he got to the constructive part of his speech. “But do we have the means to counter these threats?” he asked. “Certainly we do. It is sufficient to look at recent history. Did not our country have a peaceful transition to democracy? Indeed, we witnessed a peaceful transformation of the Soviet regime – a peaceful transformation! And what a regime! With what a number of weapons, including nuclear weapons! Why should we start bombing and shooting now at every available opportunity? Is it the case when without the threat of mutual destruction we do not have enough political culture, respect for democratic values and for the law?” Merkel unexpectedly nodded her head at this point. Putin discussed the stagnation of the disarmament process: “We hope that our partners will also act in a transparent way and will refrain from laying aside a couple of hundred superfluous nuclear warheads for a rainy day.” While criticizing the U.S. and NATO in apocalyptic terms, the Russian president had not said a single bad word about the European Union. “Missile weapons with a range of about 5000 to 8000 kilometers that really pose a threat to Europe do not exist in any of the so-called problem countries,” he said. In the bar that had been converted to a press center, reports listened to Putin's speech with bated breath. They were so captivated by the Russian president that many of them had even stooped taking notes. The president turned to business. “We are open to cooperation,” he stated. “Foreign companies participate in all our major energy projects. According to different estimates, up to 26 percent of the oil extraction in Russia – and please think about this figure – up to 26 percent of the oil extraction in Russia is done by foreign capital. Try, try to find me a similar example where Russian business participates extensively in key economic sectors in Western countries. Such examples do not exist! There are no such examples.” Finally the president turned his attention to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has always gotten a strong response from him. “They are trying to transform the OSCE into a vulgar instrument designed to promote the foreign policy interests of one or a group of countries. And this task is also being accomplished by the OSCE's bureaucratic apparatus, which is absolutely not connected with the state founders in any way. Decision-making procedures and the involvement of so-called nongovernmental organizations are tailored for this task. These organizations are formally independent but they are purposefully financed and therefore under control.” The end of the president's speech was met with weak applause. The he received questions, which were numerous. When asked about the multipolarity of the Russian government, Putin replied that “All our actions within Russia, including changing the State Duma election regime, the election regime in the Russian parliament, are designed to strengthen a multi-party system in Russia.” He did not seem concerned about sounding convincing. Having already spoken for an hour and a half, and beginning to show signs of fatigue, the Russian president went on to speak more about NATO, as well as about Kosovo, Iran and arms control. “Yes, the United States is ostensibly not developing an offensive weapon. In any case, the public does not know about this. Even though they are certainly developing them. But we aren't even going to ask about this now. We know that these developments are proceeding. But we pretend that we don't know, so we say that they aren't developing new weapons,” he said. A question about human rights in Russia went unanswered.

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