Vladimir Putin, speaking at the Munich Conference on Security Policy in Munich, Germany came out firing. His biggest target was United States policy that he asserts is making the world a more dangerous place. In his opening comments he asked that the attendees “not get angry with me” explaining that he intended to be very sharp in his comments.
Wasting no time, President Putin went to work giving a very sharp critique of what he sees as American “unipolarism.” Defining it as “one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision making. It is a world with only one master, one sovereign.” He went on to say that “this certainly has nothing in common with democracy.
Later he goes on “Incidentally, Russia-we are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves.” The United States has been very critical of the Russian government moving backward when it comes to personal freedoms in Russia. And with good cause, as President Putin has clamped down on the press and opposition parties recently. His remarks point to the perceived hypocrisy of the Bush Administration by much of the rest of the world.
He keeps on, saying “unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not solved 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. In a statement that fairly well describes the situation in Iraq, he states “Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained use of hyper-force-military force-in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible.”
Later he continues “We are seeing a greater disdain for the basic principles of international law.” Further expanding on this point he says “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?” Hitting upon a point that resonates with people all over the world.
He criticized the expansion of NATO and the planned placement of anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe, saying “we have the right to ask, against whom is this expansion directed?”
He defended Russia’s arms sales to Iran as a way of reaching out to an emerging Middle East power, saying “we don’t want Iran to feel cornered. He did criticize Iran for not cooperating more with the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency or responding to questions about its nuclear program. Putin has proposed enriching uranium for Iranian nuclear plants in Russia and placing inspectors over the entire operation. So far, that proposal has been met rather cooly by both Iran and the United States. His proposal is to “establish international centers for the enrichment of uranium.” Saying further “these centers could be in any country where there is a legitimate basis for using civil nuclear energy. He challenged all the countries involved to be more steadfast in opposing nuclear proliferation, noting that Iran is not the “only threshold nation.” Pointing out that uniform policies should be in place to keep nuclear weapons from spreading.
He did come out in favor of joint work with the United States in regard to nuclear non-proliferation, saying “I consider that Russia and the USA are objectively and equally interested in strengthening the regime of the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their deployment. It is precisely our countries, with leading nuclear and missile capabilities, that must act as leaders..” Leaving open room for negotiation while emphasizing that Russia will not automatically conform to the wishes of the Bush Administration.
Predictably, many of the United States attendees at the conference reacted sharply to Mr. Putin. Arizona Senator John McCain said “In today’s multi-polar world, there is no place for needless confrontation. Continuing “there are power centers on every continent today.” The Independent Senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman, North Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, and the new American Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, all reacted strongly.
President Putin went on to talk about European energy concerns, Russia’s upcoming entry into the WTO, the militarization of space, and the future of Kosovo. It was the comments about United States policy that drew the most attention, however.