Russian paper sees Putin’s latest speech as unlikely to frighten or impress West

Text of report by Russian website on 27 February

[Article by Ilya Milshteyn: "Appearance Not Changing"]

This created quite a strong impression five years ago, in February 2007. A uni-polar world, American expansion, the OSCE as a vulgar tool for guaranteeing the foreign policy interests of the West -such words have not been heard for a very long time from the lips of a guest from Moscow in the West, and the Russian leader poured out all this invective on the audience in the capital of Bavaria.

He held up to shame American plans to deploy missile defence systems in Eastern Europe. He accused the West of trying to keep Russian companies out of their markets. On the whole, Vladimir Putin’s famous "Munich speech" was a notable event in recent history and was at first viewed unambiguously. As a declaration of Cold War.

Five years later, it is still premature to sum up the results because the world has changed a lot, but, it is important to note -without the participation of the Russian Federation. The Arab spring, the Iranian civilian nuclear programme, the euro crisis -all of these events are occurring far away from Russia’s borders and, despite all their drama, they prove that the Kremlin itself is no longer very actively involved in global political games. That is why a Cold War has not yet happened: on the contrary, with the advent of Obama a sluggish re-setting of relations between Russia and the United States started.

The speech has been remembered for another reason. As perhaps the last sweet stroke to the portrait of our national leader. And while before Munich, even the most slow-witted Western experts were still agonizing over the question of "Who is Mr Putin?", their torments ended after this speech. The oil painting was completed.

And he himself (probably to fix this image in the minds of his enemies and partners) has not changed since then. Putin has repeated the main points of the Munich speech again and again -with various modifications, but without diverging far from the text. The latest presentation of these ideas took place today -in his most recent campaign article, published in the Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper. The author devoted it entirely to Russia’s contemporary foreign policy strategy.

This is almost a literal repeat of the Munich monologue -adjusted, of course, in line with the times, the audience, and what in politics are called the "new challenges". However, they also sit well on the old canvas, and while Putin in Munich denounced the West for interfering in the affairs of the former Yugoslavia, he now speaks with distaste about the export of "the democracy of missiles and bombs", using the example of Libya to analyse this subject. The author needs to cite the fate of Qaddafi to justify the Russian veto during the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution on Syria, which enabled Assad to continue with the mass killings of his compatriots with impunity. In short, Putin does not like the Arab Spring, which, from a purely pragmatic point of view, is not that smart. New people will come to power in the Middle East any way and it is unlikely that they will quickly forget how the Russian leader assessed the change of regimes in this region.

Putin’s article is, as always, huge in volume, but in it, like in his Munich speech, it is impossible to find a single good word about the Western democracies. Only disparagement of their governments and nongovernmental organizations. Meanwhile, the author recalls towards the end that Russia is "an integral, organic part of Greater Europe" and "our citizens feel that they are Europeans". But all of this is only being said so that we can once again beat our fists against a closed door, insisting on the abolition of Schengen visas, and reporting that the "Third Energy Package" adopted by the European Commission prevents our oil and gas empire from setting itself up with a comfortable monopoly on the old continent -to universal advantage, as Putin thinks. Europe thinks otherwise.

But he is not ca lling for the Chinese to abolish their visa regime, although he does not call Russians Asians either. On the other hand, he does not spare his praise, describing the economic and political successes of our Big Brother China. The author writes about the violation of human rights in the "old democracies" as if this was an indisputable fact that everyone knows about -he evidently is not informed about the everyday repressions in the People’s Republic of China. Our grim-looking Putin speaks with altogether such admiration about our Beijing comrades and current Russian-Chinese relations that it is just amazing. Despite the fact that the Chinese demographic threat may in the foreseeable future be a much more real one than all these paranoid fears of an orange plague and American missile defence systems in Eastern Europe.

It is easy to explain this. The Chinese are not concerned with what in the language of the Kremlin is called interference in our internal affairs. They will not say a bad word about Putin, even if water cannons are used to disperse the opposition in our country tomorrow, and they react to guns with Oriental wisdom and calm, seeing as they themselves have similar experience. Such understanding cannot be expected from America and Europe, and that is the key to Russia’s multi-vector foreign policy. And also the meaning and the thrust of Putin’s articles and speeches on the same topic. Of his preferences and grudges.

…At that time, five years ago, the strong and the weak of this world left Munich in a very nasty mood. After Putin’s speeches security in the world did not increase. On the contrary, this world became even more dangerous. Living in it, feeling the close presence of the Russian national leader, became much more unpleasant. Like during the Cold War. The world is changing -Putin’s Russia is immutable, that was the more or less common verdict confirmed one-and-a-half years later in Georgia.

There will not be such a painful reaction today. The world has already got used to Vladimir Vladimirovich, and his conceptual article will not impress, upset or scare anyone. The world simply has different concerns and it is already the case that virtually no-one wants to contribute to them any longer by arguing with Mr Putin. But they will deal with Syria and Ahmadinejad, and even more so with the European economy, without him, which is perhaps a good thing for everyone, including Russia, if it really "focuses", as he promised in another campaign article. We just need to understand what this means.

Source: website, Moscow, in Russian 27 Feb 12


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