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Con: Putin is reacting to Bush foreign policy moves

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John B. Quigley
January 19, 2008
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, “Is Russia’s Vladimir Putin intent on launching a new Cold War?”

Should we be gearing up to resist an expansionist Russia? Over the last year, tension with Russia has risen, as Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush have engaged in tit-for-tat actions and counter-actions reminiscent of the era of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.


It started in February 2007, when Putin, invited to a defense security meeting in Munich, shocked U.S. officials by publicly scolding the United States for being unilateralist and trying to impose its will on the rest of the world.


Putin had in mind our policies in the Middle East. Putin has refused to accept its view that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat. Putin has supplied nuclear material to Iran. Putin has re-started long-range patrolling by Russia’s strategic bombers, something that had not been seen since Soviet days.


In December, Putin suspended Russia’s compliance with the 1992 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which aims at reducing military deployments on the continent.


In response, the United States axed plans for 2008 NATO-Russia cooperation on such matters as counter-terrorism and narcotics trafficking. Britain has not avoided the confrontation. The British government angered Putin when it demanded that Russia extradite a Russian whom Scotland Yard suspects of killing an ex-KGB spy in London. Russia has closed British Council cultural centers in Russia, in apparent retaliation.


Does all this mean we are headed for a new Cold War? Should we build bomb shelters again?


That might be premature. Despite the recent tension, Russia no longer aspires to military parity with the West. It has given over its industrial might to private parties who have enriched themselves with it. Unlike Khrushchev, Putin does not aspire to preside over a social system that will outlive American capitalism.


Putin’s new military activity comes as the Bush administration is making new military moves in eastern Europe, moves that Russia finds threatening. Putin’s actions have come in large measure as a response. U.S. naval vessels now operate freely in Russia’s aquatic backyard, the Black Sea. Both Bulgaria and Romania have given us base rights on their Black Sea shores.


Worse still from Russia’s viewpoint, the Bush administration is negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic to erect U.S. a missile-defense system in their territories, supposedly as protection against Iran. Putin sees it as a hostile move against Russia.


More broadly, what Putin is expressing when he criticizes the United States is a resentment that is felt not only in Russia, but widely around the world, over the projection of U.S. power. We are seen as taking advantage of being the only remaining superpower to put our stamp on the rest of the world.


The Iraq war is the most notable action that has generated this reaction, and Putin has been a critic of our Iraq policy all along. Our threats against Iran enjoy little support abroad. On the Israeli-Palestinian front, we are seen as promoting an Israeli diktat rather than a just peace.


The Bush Administration, to its credit, has played down the confrontation with Russia and has not subscribed to the view that Putin is igniting a new Cold War.


At the same time, the Bush Administration has continued to appear to tweak Russia militarily near its borders and has continued its go-it-alone policies in the Middle East. Our military moves in eastern Europe are hardly necessary for defense of the United States.


Putin would find little basis for the criticism he leveled against us in Munich if we were to act like a responsible superpower, in particular in the Middle East. If we pulled out of Iraq, stopped threatening Iran, and promoted a just Israeli-Palestinian peace, we might find world leaders like Putin encouraging us, instead of confronting us.


John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University. Readers may write to him at The Michael E. Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University, 55 W. 12th Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43210; e-mail: Quigley.2@osu.edu.

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