Are Vladimir Putin's apprehensions about NATO justified? Are officials of the Bush Administration misreading Putin?
March 7, 2007 (crisispapers.org) — On February 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin startled the Munich Conference on Security Policy with a speech that was strongly critical of United States foreign and military policy. The speech drew an immediate and harsh reaction from the U.S. media. However, after reading the entire speech (found here), I must say that it was, if anything, restrained. Some extended quotations from Putin's speech are in order:
What is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day 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 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…
We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law…. 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? …
This is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this – no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race….
Putin expressed particular concern about the expansion of NATO up to the borders of Russia itself:
[NATO] represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? …
The stones and concrete blocks of the Berlin Wall have long been distributed as souvenirs. But we should not forget that the fall of the Berlin Wall was possible thanks to a historic choice – one that was also made by our people, the people of Russia – a choice in favor of democracy, freedom, openness and a sincere partnership with all the members of the big European family.
The new American Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, followed the next day with assurances to Putin and the Russians that “we all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia… I think no one wants a new Cold War with Russia.”
Though I may be earning myself a world of hurt, I must say that I am unconvinced by Gates’ reassurances and I dare suggest that Putin’s apprehensions might have some justification. (Standard disclaimer: while I find much to admire in Russian history and culture, I detest Soviet Communism. In my frequent visits to Russia, I have seen what Communism did to Russia and to my Russian friends).