Azara Blog: Small spat over Putin's remarks about the US

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Date published: 2007/02/11

The BBC says:

So will the 43rd Munich Security Conference be remembered as the start of a new Cold War?

That is probably the single most important question to emerge from this long weekend of speeches and private chats among the world's most powerful.

Certainly Russian President Vladimir Putin's strident speech stands out from the crowd.

In it, to recap, he strongly criticised the US and its European allies, with his harshest criticism reserved for Washington.

The US had, he said, overstepped its borders in every way, seeking to impose its will on the world.

But Washington has clearly decided to politely brush aside Mr Putin's remarks rather than to escalate tensions with Russia.

Making his first appearance at the conference as the new US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates tried to deflate President Putin's attack by poking a bit of fun at their past careers as spies.

"As an old Cold Warrior," he said, "one of yesterday's speakers almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.

" Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday, a starkly different background - a career in the spy business.

"And, I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking"

Mr Gates bluntly said there was no new Cold War and that the US certainly did not want one.

Rather, he said, it sought Russia's partnership.

Overall though, Mr Gates's performance will surely be remembered for it being very unlike his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld - the man the conference used to love to hate.

Clearly hoping to reach out to America's European allies he acknowledged that the US had made mistakes in the last few years and that it needed to work on restoring its reputation as a force for good in the world.

Like most countries, America likes to view itself as a force of good. Needless to say that has not been the case the last four years. So it's fair enough that Putin points this out, since nobody else on the international stage has bothered to. America likes to lecture the world, so the world should have the right to lecture the US. Of course Putin himself is not the world's best leader, but that is another issue.

And the BBC should not let itself get so suckered by Gates. He might be a reasonable person (although words count for little), but his boss (Bush) and many of the people at the top of the current US administration (e.g. Cheney) are not reasonable, indeed they are fundamentally nasty, dishonest and disreputable. And needless to say, these people have more power and influence than Gates does.

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