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Putin Castigates U.S. Foreign Policy

President Vladmir Putin accused the United States of carrying out a reckless and dangerous foreign policy, in a blistering speech that some U.S. politicians likened to Cold War rhetoric.
Senior Russian officials, however, insisted that honesty and openness -- not hostility -- were behind Putin's address to an international security conference in Munich on Saturday. Political analysts expressed doubt that the remarks would cast a chill on U.S.-Russia relations.

Putin, issuing perhaps his harshest public rebuke of the United States, said it had "overstepped its national borders in every way" and that its plans for an anti-missile shield "could provoke nothing less than the beginning of a nuclear era."

"Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper-use of military force in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts," Putin said in a clear allusion to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Putin also decried what he called "greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law" and criticized "first and foremost the United States" for forcing its values on other countries.

"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?" Putin said.

The White House expressed disappointment with the speech. "His accusations are wrong," U.S. President George W. Bush's national security spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, told The Associated Press. "We expect to continue cooperation with Russia in areas important to the international community such as counter-terrorism and reducing the spread and threat of weapons of mass destruction."

U.S. presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, who was also attending the conference, described Putin's remarks as "the most aggressive speech from a Russian leader since the end of the Cold War."

McCain also accused Russia of taking an "autocratic turn" and its foreign policy of being "opposed to the principles of the Western democracies."

"Moscow must understand that it cannot enjoy a genuine partnership with the West so long as its actions, at home and abroad, conflict fundamentally with the core values of the Euro-Atlantic democracies," McCain said, The New York Times reported.

Putin also took a swipe at accusations from the West that the Kremlin was rolling back democratic institutions.

"We are constantly being taught about democracy, but for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves," Putin said.

Putin slammed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has become increasingly critical of Russia's electoral politics since the 2000 presidential election. At the time, it praised the 2000 vote, which ushered Putin into a first term, as providing a "framework for pluralist elections and for a significantly high level of transparency."

"People are trying to transform the OSCE into a vulgar instrument designed to promote the foreign policy interests of one or a group of countries," Putin said.

He chided the OSCE for "interfering in the internal affairs of other countries" and warned that it should not be involved in "imposing a regime that determines how these states should live and develop."

The OSCE has raised red flags about the fairness of elections held in other former Soviet republics in recent years.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who sat in the audience next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during Putin's speech, said Sunday that "one Cold War was quite enough."

"As an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday's speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time," Gates said, the AP reported. "Almost."

Gates announced Sunday in Munich that he had accepted an invitation from Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to visit Russia. He did not give a date for the trip.

Speaking in Munich on Sunday, Ivanov said he did not think Putin's speech was aggressive or confrontational but showed, rather, that "our relationships with the European Union and the United Sates and Germany are so mature that we can freely say what we truly think."

"Open, without hypocrisy and without the Cold War philosophy," Ivanov said, Interfax reported.

Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the speech did not indicate any change in Russia's foreign policy and that talk of a return to the Cold War was unwarranted.

"Russia is not the second coming of the Soviet Union," Margelov said, Interfax reported. "The Russian president is the president of all Russian citizens, including those who -- not without reason -- are worried by missile systems placed at our borders, as well as prejudice against Russia and insinuations that we are unpredictable."

Margelov was traveling with Putin in Saudi Arabia and could not be reached for further comment, his spokeswoman said Sunday.

Political analysts downplayed suggestions that Putin's speech represented any sharp new direction in Russia's relations with the West.

"He did not say anything that he hasn't said before in one way or another," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Kremlin-connected analyst.

Nikonov said the timing of Putin's speech was likely connected a statement by Gates last week that lumped Russia together with North Korea and Iran.

Gates told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the United States needed a "full range of military capabilities" because "we don't know what's going to develop in places like Russia and China, in North Korea, in Iran and elsewhere."

With regional parliamentary elections approaching in March, State Duma elections in December and the election of Putin's successor next year, Putin's speech was meant primarily for domestic consumption, said Vladimir Privylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

"It helps create the image of building a fortress around Russia to keep out enemies," he said. "This keeps the populace afraid of the West and encourages them to rally around the Kremlin."

Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky said that far from being confrontational, Putin's speech would likely be received at home as "very reserved and diplomatic."

"Even among the middle class, anti-Americanism runs very deep," Pavlovsky said.

(The Moscow Times 12.ii.07)

 
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