Putin obliquely assails U.S. policy

In speech, he makes Third Reich reference

May 10, 2007|By New York Times News Service

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir V. Putin obliquely compared the foreign policy of the United States to the Third Reich in a speech yesterday commemorating the 62nd anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, apparently in an escalation of anti-American rhetoric within the Russian government.

The comments were the latest in a series of sharply worded Russian criticisms of U.S. policy on Iraq, missile defense, NATO expansion and, more broadly, U.S. unilateralism in foreign affairs.

Many Russians say the sharper edge reflects a frustration that Russia's views, in particular opposition to NATO expansion, have been ignored in the West. Outside Russia, many have detected in the new tone a return to Cold War-style antagonism, emboldened by oil wealth.

Putin's analogy was a small part of a larger speech, otherwise unambiguously congratulating Russian veterans of World War II, known here as the Great Patriotic War. Putin spoke from a podium in front of Vladimir I. Lenin's mausoleum on Red Square before troops mustered for a military parade.

Putin called Victory Day a holiday of "huge moral importance and unifying power" for Russia and went on to enumerate the lessons of that conflict for the world today.

"We do not have the right to forget the causes of any war, which must be sought in the mistakes and errors of peacetime," Putin said.

"Moreover, in our time, these threats are not diminishing. They are only transforming, changing their appearance. In these new threats, as during the time of the Third Reich, are the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world."

The Kremlin press service declined to clarify the statement, saying that Putin's spokesman was unavailable because of the holiday.

Sergei A. Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies, who works closely with the Kremlin, said in a telephone interview that Putin had been referring to the United States and NATO. Markov said the comments should be interpreted in the context of a wider, philosophical discussion of the lessons of World War II. The speech also praised the role of the allies of the Soviet Union in defeating Germany.

"He intended to talk about the United States, but not only," Markov said of the Third Reich reference. "The speech said that the Second World War teaches lessons that can be applied in today's world."

The United States, Putin has maintained, is seeking to establish a unipolar world to replace the bipolar balance of power of the Cold War era.

In a speech in Munich, Germany, on Feb. 10, he characterized the United States as "one single center of power, one single center of force, one single center of decision-making. This is the world of one master, one sovereign."

The victory in World War II, which left an estimated 27 million Soviet citizens dead, still echoes loudly in the politics of the former Soviet Union, particularly in Russia's relations with the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In his speech yesterday, Putin criticized Estonia, also indirectly, for recently relocating a monument to the Red Army in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, along with the remains of unknown soldiers buried there.

Putin warned that desecrating war memorials was "sowing discord and new distrust between states and people." The remarks were a nod to the protests in Russia and Estonia after the relocation of the Bronze Soldier memorial from the city center to a military cemetery.

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