MOSCOW: Looming elections at home and anger over US missile defences moving close to Russia’s borders underlie President Vladimir Putin’s harsh attack on the United States in a speech on 10 February, analysts said.
Putin took western governments by surprise when he accused Washington of fuelling a new arms race by pursuing unilateralist policies, but at home his strong language struck a chord among Russians who feel either ignored or unfairly targeted.Putin also wants his successor, due to be elected in March 2008, to follow his course and is trying to set out long-term foreign policy guidelines, said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst closely connected to the Kremlin.
“This indicates that Russia is mature enough to say ‘yes´ and ‘no´ in the world,” Pavlovsky told Interfax news agency.Russia’s grudges against the post-Cold War world have been piling up for many years.Moscow’s protests were ignored when NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 and when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.
Russia also had to swallow the Western military alliance’s expansion into Eastern Europe, including right up to its borders when the former Soviet states of the Baltic joined NATO in 2004.But a sharp rise in the prices of Russia’s main exports — oil, gas and metals— have now given Moscow fresh economic clout and an appetite for the political influence to match.
“Russia ... has practically always enjoyed the privilege of conducting an independent foreign policy,” Putin said in his speech to a security conference in Munich, Germany. “We are not going to break this tradition.”Putin, who presided at last year’s St Petersburg summit of the Group of Eight leading nations, denies charges of seeking to confront the West.
He says U.S. domination in the post-Cold War world has not made the world a safer place and that the world order needs to be reviewed to take account of new centres of power like China, India and Russia.But the Kremlin leader also has to heed a domestic audience who increasingly feel they are under siege from the West.
“It looks like they are about to start jumping from windows shouting ‘The Russians are coming!´,” a commentator of Echo Moskvy radio, normally known for its liberal and pro-Western line, said in a weekly review comparing current Western sentiment to the U.S. anti-Soviet campaigns of the 1950s.
Foreign policy differences lie at the heart of the friction. The Russians have been annoyed by U.S. support for pro-Western revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine and diplomatic activity in other ex-Soviet states seen by Moscow as its back yard.
Sharp differences have emerged over Middle East policy. Russia favours constructive engagement with Iran, pointing out that a tough line has failed to deter North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.
Moscow also wants dialogue with Iran and Syria to help solve the Palestinian problem and believes that what it sees as American attempts to impose Western democracy by force, such as in Iraq, are doomed to fail.These are themes Putin is likely to develop in a visit to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan starting later on Sunday.But the last straw was U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Washington justifies the move as a defence against possible attacks from Iran or North Korea but Putin says only Russia has the long-range missiles the system is designed to counter.His tough remarks in Saturday’s speech echoed growing anti-American sentiment in Russia’s government-dominated media.
“The painful American failures in Iraq, the aborted attempt to turn the broader Middle East into a testing ground for the Western model of democracy, and the flop of the neo-conservative doctrine of “a new American age” are pushing the U.S. administration to search for ... somebody to blame for American mistakes,” wrote Vladimir Simonov, a commentator for state news agency RIA-Novosti.“In that situation, Russia with its growing economy, an image of the world’s largest energy supplier, and the new confidence of its leaders seemed like an easy ‘clay pigeon´ for the American shooting range.”