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On February 10, at an international security conference in Munich, Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave what Arizona Senator and Republican presidential hopeful John McCain called “the most aggressive speech from a Russian leader since the end of the Cold War.”
As attendees from around the world listened, President Putin lashed out at the United States: “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.”
He further derided U.S. international policy, stating the country had “overstepped national borders in every way” and was exhibiting “greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law.”
Mr. Putin went on to explain that it was the United States’ unfettered use of military power that had made it necessary for countries such as Iran to pursue nuclear technology. However, he did not address whether Russia provided Iran with nuclear technology in the mid-90s.
Is America’s aggressive use of force against global terrorist threats (real or perceived) responsible for the international arms buildup and for Iran and other regimes’ rush to acquire nuclear weaponry? Or is the war in Iraq a convenient pretext for Iran to hide behind and justify existing programs?
President Bush’s national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe responded to Putin’s speech by simply stating, “His accusations are wrong.” He added, “We expect to continue cooperation in areas important to the international community such as counter-terrorism and reducing the spread and threat of weapons of mass destruction.”
Some political analysts believe the critical elements in Mr. Putin’s speech did not mark a tangible shift in Russian policy or that they would cool cooperation between the United States and Russia. But how can two countries with such different views of the current international situation “continue to cooperate”?
Vladimir Privilovsky, head of the Panorama think-tank, expressed the view held by many analysts that Mr. Putin’s speech was simple political rhetoric aimed squarely at fellow Russians. He further stated that “anti-Americanism runs very deep” in Russia and that “this keeps the populace afraid of the West and encourages them to rally around the Kremlin.”
Seemingly confirming Mr. Privilovsky’s assertion was a comment made by Mr. Putin against NATO’s expansion plans. He called them “challenges to Russia” and that any buildup of the NATO alliance could provoke an “unspecified response” to prevent a further shift in the balance of power.
Were President Putin’s remarks meant solely for Russia’s “domestic consumption” to advance his own political agenda at home? Furthermore, were they a pretense for justifying military expansion, and a stronger Russia? If so, the far-reaching danger of such seemingly hostile rhetoric should be carefully considered.
In recent months, similar inflammatory messages have been delivered inside Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Israel and the U.S. It is increasingly difficult to discern which comments are made for “domestic consumption” and political gain within countries and which comments are meant as stern warnings to the international community.