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Groups Assail Putin Comments Against European BMD

By | February 19, 2007

      A bizarre, eye-popping speech by the top Russian leader was roundly condemned as a ludicrous, calculating and astonishing response to the United States moving to protect European allies with a very limited defensive, rather than an offensive, system.

      Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking the center-stage spotlight at a global conference in Munich, resurrected Cold War-style invective against the United States and its plans to install ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems to safeguard Europe against missiles launched from the Middle East.

      That U.S. BMD system would be installed in the Czech Republic and Poland.

      His public tirade drew disdain from U.S. organizations, who viewed comments of the former KGB leader as hoary rhetoric more reflecting the dead-and-gone Soviet Union, rather than the 21st century world of reality.

      For example, the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA), which favors BMD protective shields, heaped scorn on Putin’s outburst. “The crescendo of President Putin’s focus was his dislike of NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union’s eastern block countries to include the placement of U.S. missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Poland,” noted Riki Ellison, MDAA president and founder.

      Another appalled reaction came from Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, who sees the central spine of his bombast as a fear-mongering exercise, fostering an “America-as-the-enemy” construct.

      She noted that he “blasted the plans for U.S. missile defense bases in Central Europe, possibly in Poland or the Czech Republic, mocking the stated goal of such installations as defenses against missile launches from Iran or North Korea.”

      Rather, Putin saw some sinister plot by U.S. military leaders to knock down Russian missiles.

      “Putin clearly stated that the missile defenses are aimed to neutralize Russian retaliatory nuclear strike capability — a destabilizing factor in the Russian nuclear playbook,” Cohen noted.

      This is bizarre fantasy, according to U.S. military experts, who note that the very limited handful of ballistic missile interceptors would be powerless, equivalent to a gnat attempting to stand up to a shotgun blast in the face of thousands of nuclear-armed Russian missiles.

      As well, the Russian leader looked longingly to the past, to the old days of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was a super power peer standing up to the United States, Cohen noted.

      “Putin waxed nostalgic about the bi-polar world in which the U.S. and the [Soviets] checked each other’s ambition through a balance of nuclear terror known as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD),” Cohen recalled.

      “Many Russian and Western experts perceive Putin’s speech as a declaration of a new Cold War.”

      But then again, perhaps his speech had less to do with a desire to tackle the United States in some grand new conflict, and more to do with a desire to play to hatred of America that increasingly is rampant in nations around the world, including Russia, she observed.

      The motivation is monetary, a desire to pull profit from prejudice against the Americans, she stated.

      This is to be done on a smaller scale, involving smaller nations, and on a grand scale, in moving to match American military might.

      First, she stated, “Russia is … trying to corner the market in weapons sales, especially to rogue- and semi-rogue states.”

      To cite some concrete examples, “Russia is the largest arms supplier to China and Iran; it signed a $3 billion arms deal with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela over U.S. objections, and is courting Middle Eastern buyers,” she observed.

      If harvesting hatred of the United States helps to keep commerce in arms flowing, Russians think, so much the better, she explained.

      “Russia is happy to play into the Arab and Muslim street’s anti-Americanism and to signal that the U.S., which is facing severe difficulties in Iraq, does not exercise exclusive strategic dominance in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East,” she reported.

      As for that oil-rich region, “Moscow is back — with a vengeance — in the most important energy depot of the world,” she continued. “It is no accident that the speech was delivered on the eve of Putin’s historic visit to Saudi Arabia, the first for any Russian or Soviet leader, and to Qatar and Jordan, America’s allies in the Middle East.”

      As well, there is money to be spent and military muscle to be flexed against the United States, she wrote. By portraying the United States as some massively overpowered global oppressor, a dangerous military machine out of control, Putin can thereby invent a pretext for an enormously expensive Russian military buying spree.

      “Russia is planning to spend $189 billion in the next five years for a rapid military modernization,” Cohen wrote. “Announced on February 8 by Defense Minister Ivanov, the program includes new nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, a fleet of TU-160 supersonic strategic bombers, and development of a fifth-generation fighter jet.”

      Currently, the United States alone deploys a fighter jet without peer, the F-22 Raptor by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT]. If Russia attempted to develop a new fighter jet, it would be designed to best the Raptor, igniting a new race in fighter design.

      Cohen notes that the purpose of such massive military hardware isn’t to suppress terrorists wielding home-made bombs, but rather is to challenge U.S. military leadership.

      “Such a [huge military buildup] program is clearly aimed at balancing U.S. military power, not fighting terrorists in the Caucasus mountains,” Cohen observed. And to justify spending all that money on hardware, a pretext must be invented: portraying the United States as some pouncing monster. The Putin buildup “needs the U.S. as ‘glavny protivnik’ — the principal adversary,” she noted.

      Ellison, of the MDAA, had a similar take on Putin’s angry language.

      “This propaganda revitalizes fears of the West for Russian internal domestic consumption and allows Russia to lead and enable anti American partnerships to support her policies and to develop markets for Russian weapons and technologies,” Ellison wrote.

      “This is clearly demonstrated as Mr. Putin defended his country’s arms sales to Iran as a way of reaching out to the Middle Eastern” nations.

      Ellison lashed out at Putin for his self-serving statement. “MDAA deplores the remarks and the policy direction set by Russian President Putin as his statements are driven strictly towards the unilateral needs of Russia to compete as a [global] power,” Ellison wrote.

      Further, Ellison indicated that Putin’s seeing a threat in the small European BMD installation is nothing short of hallucinatory.

      “The missile defense system being potentially deployed in Poland of 10 proposed Ground Based Interceptors has no ability to deter, threaten or challenge the Russian ballistic missile forces which are in the thousands,” he stated.

      Rather than threatening Russia, the European BMD system could protect Russia from attack, Ellison argued.

      “This proposed non-offensive system in Poland and the proposed radar in the Czech Republic offers a more effective missile defense than what Russia now has in place for her own country, as this Eastern European Missile Defense system can defend Russian cities along with Eastern European and continental European cities from ballistic missile threats and attacks coming from the Middle East,” Ellison argued.

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