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NEW REALITIES IN OLD MUNICH
13.02.07
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political correspondent Pyotr Romanov)

The speech Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy has caused a sensation.

Some people have compared it to Winston Churchill’s Fulton address, which began the Cold War. This is going too far, in my opinion, although Putin’s speech did come as a cold shower to Western politicians. Speaking calmly and politely, the Russian leader drew a line under a lengthy period of relations between the West and a Russia weakened by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Putin spoke about unfulfilled Western promises, the unacceptability of NATO’s advance to the Russian border, and the drawbacks of the unipolar world “led by Washington,” which, to the displeasure of many, is forcing U.S. laws and views of the world onto the international community.
He provided indisputable facts in his speech, parts of which were immediately reproduced in the press. The speech itself is on the Internet.
In a way, that new Munich has become the antipode of Chamberlain’s old Munich, which was a symbol of political weakness and concessions. Speaking on behalf of his country, Putin said firmly that Russia will not yield to Western pressure, but will pursue its own foreign and domestic policies and will respond adequately, though not in kind, to the advance of foreign troops to its borders.
The argument that NATO is moving towards Russian borders to protect Europe from rogue countries does not hold water. A look at the map will show you that Iran and North Korea are located thousands of miles away from the Czech Republic and Poland, where U.S. radars and missile bases are being deployed.
Russia will not squander money on an expensive and not very reliable ballistic missile defense. Instead, it will try to restore the balance by creating weapons systems capable of avoiding the Western anti-missile umbrella. It is not bluffing, and Europe will surely not gain anything from this situation.
On the other hand, certain complaints can be directed at the Kremlin, as a closer look at the “battleground” will show.
It is true that the West has not fulfilled the promises it made to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the liquidation of the Warsaw Pact. It is also true that the current U.S. administration is trying to dominate the world.
At the same time, sober-minded Western politicians do not want another Cold War, because the interests of Western and Russian businesses have become closely intertwined. But the West would like Russia to be a bit different.
Putin’s speech in Munich, although it has created repercussions in the West, was delivered in vain. The West does not need a recitation of its sins, which they anyway know by heart, and the speaker, contrary to his audience’s expectations, did not say a word about Russia’s blunders. As a result, it was like a conversation between the deaf and the mute.
The Munich speech has strengthened Western irritation and wariness of Russia, although Putin wanted it to encourage the West to take a critical look at itself. Instead, it has convinced Western politicians that everything they did in the past (like giving false promises) was justified.
It is outrageous that the U.S. secretary of defense has put Russia on a par with North Korea. However, opinions of this issue differ.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a prominent Russian human-rights figure who is neither fanatical nor excessively radical, has said about Gates’ statement that Russia is not like North Korea, and the current Kremlin regime is not totalitarian. However, Gates has outlined some alarming trends correctly, Alekseyeva said.
Over the last few years, Russia has been strengthening its economy and restoring its military and research capabilities. At the same time, its democratic progress has been stalled, and even reversed in some areas, such as its election legislation.
This is one of the reasons why the West is becoming wary of Russia, and wariness is the first step towards fear.
The West will draw its own conclusions, while the recommendations for Russia are obvious. It should protect its borders and strengthen its armed forces, but it would also benefit from a second “democratic wave” that should reinforce achievements, correct mistakes, and spur forward movement.
This would simplify both the Kremlin’s relations with the West and the lives of ordinary Russians.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board. -0-