Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia: Washington Reacts To Putin's Munich Speech

Putin (left) with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Munich on February 10 (epa) WASHINGTON, February 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has been cautious in its reaction to Russian President Vladimir Putin's criticisms of its policies. At a conference in Munich on February 10, Putin accused the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush of what he called an "almost uncontained use of military force" that has led other countries to seek nuclear weapons.

Putin also criticized U.S. support for an independent Kosovo and plans to set up a missile-defense system in Central Europe.

Shortly after Putin spoke, Gordon Johndroe, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said the White House was "surprised and disappointed."

Putin's comments reminded more than a few observers of the verbal exchanges between Moscow and Washington during the Cold War.

MORE: Coverage in Russian from RFE/RL's Russian Service.

After all, for nearly six years Bush has made much of his friendship with Putin, going back to their first meeting in June 2001 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. At the time, Bush said that during the meeting, he looked Putin in the eye and got "a sense of his soul."

'Reeducation Camp'

The day after Putin spoke, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed the same Munich conference and referred to the Russian leader's comments somewhat lightheartedly.

"As an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday's speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time," Gates said. "Almost. Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday, a starkly different background, a career in the spy business. And, I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking. However, I've been to reeducation camp."

But Gates followed up more seriously. He said that while the United States and Russia are partners in several undertakings, Moscow's policies also, in his words, "seem to work against international stability" -- specifically, arms sales to Iran and its use of energy for what he called "political coercion."

On February 12, White House spokesman Tony Snow said Putin was wrong to accuse the United States of acting unilaterally and emphasizing military force over diplomacy.

"If you take a look at the way this administration has dealt with international issues, it has always begun with an international diplomatic component and will continue to," Snow said.

Still, Snow sought to emphasize the positive, saying that Russia is, in his words, "a valued ally" and partner in many international endeavors, including efforts to get North Korea and Iran to end their nuclear programs.

Putin's comments reminded more than a few observers of the verbal exchanges between Moscow and Washington during the Cold War. Even Gates referred to it, saying no one wants it revived, even as one side may express concerns about the other's behavior.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a private research institute in Washington, says Putin is making a kind of declaration that Russia must be treated with more respect.

Putin wants to show the world that he will no longer acquiesce in some U.S. foreign policy decisions that have bothered Russia, Carpenter says. He points to Moscow's past acceptance of the war in the Balkans, two rounds of NATO expansion, the U.S. troop presence in Central Asia and, of course, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"What has been developing over the past year or so and really culminated with this speech was a clear declaration that those days are over, that Russia is going to stand up strongly for its interests, it's not happy about the direction of U.S. foreign policy, and that it will make those views known very clearly."

Carpenter says he expects Russia to stand up for its own interests -- not just with speeches, but with what he calls "natural-gas diplomacy" to make Europe realize how dependent it is on Russia for energy. He also cites Moscow's recent effort to keep Ukraine out of NATO and the political and economic pressure it's brought on Georgia.

Expect Russia to exert pressure on the United States, too, Carpenter says, but indirectly.

"Russia can certainly exert pressure on the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, making it clear that there is a price to pay for excessively close ties to Washington and making them, in all likelihood, more reluctant to intensify those ties," he says. "In Central Asia, Moscow can use [its] influence to make life even more uncomfortable for the United States than it has become in recent years."

Increasingly Assertive

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Carpenter says, Russia appeared weak as it sought to establish a new, post-communist identity. Now Moscow wields economic power through its vast reserves of natural resources, particularly gas and oil.

Carpenter says it's time the U.S. government began treating Russia with more respect and caution than it has in the past 15 years.

"There developed an attitude in Washington that we could pretty well barge into a traditional Russian sphere of influence, and Moscow could do nothing about it. That attitude has to change," he says. "We [the United States] are still, by far, the leading power in the international system, but Russia has made it abundantly clear that it's no longer content to be treated as a third-rate power. And that's pretty much what Washington had been doing for a good many years."

Carpenter says Russia is not now strong enough to make it a counterbalance to the United States. But its influence is growing, and Washington should recognize that.

Russia And Global Energy Security

Russia And Global Energy Security

An oil field in Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan (TASS file photo)

ENERGY SECURITY is increasingly moving to the top of the EU's agenda in its dealings the outside world. A recent report identifies the European Union's main energy objectives as not just securing gas and oil deliveries from Russia, but also ensuring that it has reliable alternative sources, including in Central Asia. Nonetheless, EU officials say relations with Russia take center-stage in their thinking....(more)


EU Maintains Codependent Energy Relationship With Russia

Moscow Gets Tough With The EU

Turkmenistan: The Achilles' Heel Of European Energy Security

U.S. Official Urges Reforms In Energy-Producing Countries


A complete archive of RFE/RL's coverage of energy issues in the Caspian Sea region and Russia.