Vladimir Putin's harsh criticism of U.S. military and foreign policy on February 10, 2007 should have set off alarm bells in the West, but apparently did not.
In a startlingly blunt speech at a Munich security conference, Russia's president accused Washington of seeking world domination, undermining the UN and other international institutions, monopolizing world energy resources, destabilizing the Mideast by its bungled occupation of Iraq, and unleashing a new nuclear arms race by planning to deploy anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe.
Russia has long fumed over NATO's advance to its western borders, and Washington's attempts to replace Moscow's influence in Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. This column has long maintained that while one sympathizes with the desire of Eastern European states to take shelter from old foe Russia by joining NATO, pushing the alliance to Russia's doorstep was dangerously provocative and militarily ill-advised.
"He who defends everything," said Frederick the Great, "defends nothing."
The Baltic states are indefensible; Bulgaria and Romania are military liabilities, as Germany found in World War II. Bulgaria and Romania were included into NATO because the U.S. wanted access to their Black Sea air bases as part of its air bridge to the Mideast and Central Asia. The U.S. and its allies shrugged off Putin's warnings while the Western media blasted the Russian leader for daring to challenge the Pax Americana.
President Putin certainly merits strong criticism for his faked-up war against independent Chechnya and massive human rights violations there, and his increasingly authoritarian rule--ironically, charges many also level at President George W. Bush.
But Putin is absolutely right when he warns that the Bush administration is igniting a strategic arms race by modernizing its nuclear arsenal and planning to deploy ballistic missile defence systems (BMD) in Poland and the Czech Republic.
This week, Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, chief of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, warned U.S. BMD plans may compel Russia to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a cornerstone of U.S.-Russian detente, and deploy a new generation of intermediate-range missiles aimed at Europe. An over-reaction, but still ominous.
The Russians rightly scoff at U.S. claims the BMD systems in Poland and the Czech Republic are designed to stop missiles from Iran and other unspecified "rogue" states. These new strategic systems, says Moscow and some western defense analysts, are part of the Bush/Cheney administration's profoundly destabilizing efforts to erect anti-missile defenses in Alaska and Europe that may nullify the nuclear arsenals of Russia and China.
In short, the White House is heading away from the traditional balance of mutually assured destruction to absolute nuclear supremacy.
Given the faked war against Iraq, and Bush and Cheney's strident talk about "pre-emptive strikes against threatening nations," the Russians are understandably uneasy. Putin's angry speech is a warning that Russia, which remains a great power with a large, capable missile force, will not let the U.S. attain unchallenged world nuclear, political, or energy domination. China echoes this warning.
Ironically, high world oil prices caused in good part by Bush's disastrous invasion of Iraq boosted Russia's oil-based economy, allowing Moscow to modernize its run-down armed forces.
Putin's speech also suggested Russia will take a more active role in the Mideast. This could be a positive development given the striking inability of the Bush/Cheney Administration to separate itself from the interests of Israel's right wing parties and return to its traditional role of at least semi-honest broker.
Some Europeans also quietly welcomed Putin's declamation.
There is growing irritation in the EU and NATO--what former U.S. National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski cruelly terms "America's vassal states"--at being brusquely ordered about by Washington and told to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many Western Europeans are starting to long for the Cold War days and old bi-polar world order.
No one loves Russia, but many Europeans say a strong Russia--and China--are necessary to restrain some of America's more overly assertive or unwise instincts.
© PROMETHEUS 118/2007
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 118, April 2007