Posted on October 30, 2007
He's Putin Us On
Vlad's comparison misses the mark
In his opposition to America's missile defenses, Russian president Vladimir Putin put forth the comparison that, "Analagous actions by the Soviet Union, when it deployed missiles in Cuba, led to the Caribbean crisis. For us today, from a technological viewpoint, the situation is very similar. Such a threat is being set up on our borders."
The particular missile defense sites that Putin opposes, which are to be built in Poland and the Czech Republic, pose no threat to Russia whatsoever -- assuming that the Russian government has no sinister intentions toward its European neighbors, that is. President Bush has assured him that the shield is being deployed against Iran and other rogue states, and not Russia. In any case, the shield cannot be considered a provocation, because it's a purely defensive system.
Putin made his remarks at a press conference, following an EU summit in Portugal. One might have hoped that the reporters there would have quizzed him about why he saw the shield as a threat. In other words, why does he so badly want to maintain the option of launching nuclear missiles into Europe? Instead, they let Putin obscure his utterly indefensible position by making this specious comparison to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Once we try to follow Putin's argument through, its invalidity becomes obvious. The Cuban Missile Crisis arose when it was discovered that the Soviets were placing offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba. Until President Kennedy had photographic evidence that this was the case, he had accepted Khrushchev's assurances that the only missiles the Soviets were installing in Cuba were defensive in nature, to guard against a possible U.S. invasion of the island. The fact that the missiles were placed 90 miles from American soil, with America being the understood enemy, was not enough to provoke a threat from Kennedy.
For several years, there have been simmering fears in the West that Putin, a former KGB agent who has never resigned from the Communist Party, is setting the groundwork to rebuild the Soviet Union. Among other offenses, he has squelched freedom of the press in his country, and recently staged a public demonstration on his own behalf, in the Stalinist tradition. What he is now attempting is a rhetorical role reversal, by casting the U.S. and its allies as the Soviet aggressors of the Sixties.
Can Putin really believe his own accusation, that a small missile defense battery in Eastern Europe is a threat to a nation with a nuclear arsenal the size of Russia's? Before answering that question, consider that it is Russia who is building the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran. On a recent trip to that country, Putin denied that the plant would be used to produce nuclear weapons, and warned Russia's fellow Caspian nations not to allow their countries to be used by the U.S. to stage an attack on the Iranian site.
If Russia's building the power plant doesn't already give it enough of a financial interest, it has also helped to arm Iran in order to defend that site. Just this past January, Putin's government delivered anti-aircraft missile systems to the Iranians, in fulfillment of a $700 million contract. The Russian government reacted with mock surprise to America's concerns about the deal, pointing out that the weapons involved are defensive in nature. The difference is that the purpose of the Russian missile systems is to defend Iran's potential to develop offensive nuclear weapons, whereas ours are meant to defend European cities from nuclear-armed Islamist fanatics.
If our missile shield proves to be successful, it will diminish the value of the Iranian nuclear project, by taking away Iran's capacity to strike with long-range nuclear missiles. Thus, all the hardware and all the technology that Iran has been purchasing from Russia will be severely devalued. The threat from our defensive missile shield is not to the safety of Putin's country, as he claims, but to that of his country's interests in Iran.
So far, President Bush has stood firm against Putin's protestations, but worries remain about the degree of trust that the president seems to have in his Russian counterpart. Bush, who is known to hand out silly nicknames as pneumonic devices, once adorned Putin with the cuddly moniker "Pooty-Poot." We can only deduce that "Lambchop" was already taken.
When Bush first met with Putin in 2001, he alarmed and embarrassed many of his supporters by remarking that he had "looked into his soul." Here's hoping that he didn't get blinded by the soot.-- Daniel Clark is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.
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