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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Putin Says U.S. Is Undermining Global Stability

February 11, 2007

Putin Says U.S. Is Undermining Global Stability

By THOM SHANKER and MARK LANDLER
MUNICH, Feb. 10 — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia accused the United States on Saturday of provoking a new nuclear arms race by developing ballistic missile defenses, undermining international institutions and making the Middle East more unstable through its clumsy handling of the Iraq war.

In an address to an international security conference, Mr. Putin dropped all diplomatic gloss to recite a long list of complaints about American domination of global affairs, including many of the themes that have strained relations between the Kremlin and the United States during his seven-year administration.

Among them were the expansion of NATO into the Baltics and the perception in Russia that the West has supported groups that have toppled other governments in Moscow’s former sphere of influence.

“The process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernization of the alliance,” Mr. Putin said. “We have the right to ask, ‘Against whom is this expansion directed?’ ”

He said the United States had turned the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sends monitors to elections in the former Soviet sphere, “into a vulgar instrument of ensuring the foreign policy interests of one country.”

The comments were the sternest yet from Mr. Putin, who has long bristled over criticism from the United States and its European allies as he and his cadre of former Soviet intelligence officials have consolidated their hold on Russia’s government, energy reserves and arms-manufacturing and trading complexes.

Rubble from the Berlin Wall was “hauled away as souvenirs” to countries that praise openness and personal freedom, he said, but “now there are attempts to impose new dividing lines and rules, maybe virtual, but still dividing our mutual continent.”

The world, he said, is now unipolar: “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.”

With the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the American defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, and a Congressional delegation sitting stone-faced, Mr. Putin warned that the power amassed by any nation that assumes this ultimate global role “destroys it from within.

“It has nothing in common with democracy, of course,” he added. “Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations — military force.”

“Primarily the United States has overstepped its national borders, and in every area,” said Mr. Putin, who increasingly has tried to re-establish Russia’s once broad Soviet-era influence, using Russia’s natural resources as leverage and defending nations at odds with the United States, including Iran.

American military actions, which he termed “unilateral” and “illegitimate,” also “have not been able to resolve any matters at all,” and, he said, have created only more instability and danger.

“They bring us to the abyss of one conflict after another,” he said. “Political solutions are becoming impossible.”

The comments irritated some European leaders and prompted sharp criticism from the Americans in attendance. Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican widely expected to make a bid for the White House, made a rebuttal that began, “In today’s multipolar world, there is no place for needless confrontation.” He said that the United States won the cold war in partnership with powerful nations of Western Europe, and that “there are power centers on every continent today.”

Mr. McCain then hit back at Mr. Putin more directly. “Will Russia’s autocratic turn become more pronounced, its foreign policy more opposed to the principles of the Western democracies and its energy policy used as a tool of intimidation?” he asked. “Moscow must understand that it cannot enjoy a genuine partnership with the West so long as its actions, at home and abroad, conflict fundamentally with the core values of the Euro-Atlantic democracies.”

In Washington, Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said in a statement: “We are surprised and disappointed with President Putin’s comments. His accusations are wrong. We expect to continue cooperation with Russia in areas important to the international community such as counterterrorism and reducing the spread and threat of weapons of mass destruction.”

Russia has also faced criticism from the United States and other Western countries that believe it has used energy reserves and transport pipelines to reward friendly countries and to punish those seeking to distance themselves from Kremlin control. Some analysts saw the tone of the speech as evidence of how much oil and mineral revenues have strengthened Mr. Putin.

The occasion of the speech was the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy — an event begun deep in the cold war, when Germany was divided and hundreds of thousands of American troops were stationed in Western Europe as a bulwark against Warsaw Pact forces.

Mr. Putin began with an apology for the tough talk to come. But during a lively question and answer period full of challenges and rebukes, the Russian president indicated that he relished provoking the international audience of legislators, government leaders, political analysts and human rights advocates.

“I love it,” Mr. Putin said as he reviewed a long list of questions. He has long enjoyed high and durable public approval ratings at home, in part for standing up to the West and for pursuing an assertive foreign policy with former Soviet states.

He did offer at least two significant and conciliatory statements to the United States.

President Bush “is a decent man, and one can do business with him,” he said. From their meetings and discussions, Mr. Putin said, he has heard the American president say, “I assume Russia and the United States will never be enemies, and I agree.”

And while Mr. Putin denied that Russia had assisted the Iranian military with significant arms transfers, he also criticized the government in Tehran for not cooperating more with the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency or responding to questions about its nuclear program.

Other American lawmakers offered measured criticism afterward. “He’s done more to bring Europe and the U.S. together than any single event in the last several years,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, described the speech as “confrontational,” saying, “some of the rhetoric takes us back to the cold war.”

Iran’s top nuclear official, Ali Larijani, listened impassively from the back of the room. His attendance had become a sideshow in itself. After accepting an invitation to speak Sunday, he canceled, citing health reasons, after a tense meeting with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna that concluded with a decision to freeze technical cooperation projects.

Mr. Putin joked that he worried the United States was “hiding extra warheads under the pillow” despite its treaties with Moscow to reduce strategic nuclear stockpiles. And he indicated obliquely that the new Russian ballistic missile, known as the Topol-M, was being developed at least in part in response to American efforts to field missile defenses.

He expressed alarm that an effective antimissile shield over the United States would upset a system of mutual fear that kept the nuclear peace throughout the cold war. “That means the balance will be upset, completely upset,” he said.

Addressing tensions between Europe and Russia over energy exports, Mr. Putin said 26 percent of Russian oil was extracted by foreign companies. While Russia is open to outside investment, he said, it has found its businessmen blocked from deals abroad.

The Kremlin has been criticized for attempting to impose registration and taxation laws that could restrict the work of foreign nongovernmental organizations with offices in Russia to aid democratization.

But Mr. Putin said his concerns about the work grew from the fact that they “are used as channels for funding, and those funds are provided by governments of other countries.” That flow of foreign money to assist opposition Russian political organizations, he said, is “hidden from our society.

“What is democratic about this?” he asked. “This is not about democracy. This is about one country influencing another.”

Mrs. Merkel, in her opening speech, struck a far more diplomatic tone than Mr. Putin, though she alluded to the tensions between Europe and Russia over energy shipments and the independence of Kosovo.

Addressing herself to Mr. Putin, who was sitting in the front row, Mrs. Merkel said, “In my talks with you, I have sensed that Russia is going to be a reliable and predictable partner.” But she added, “We need to speak frankly with each other.”

Mrs. Merkel had previously criticized in sharp terms Russia’s recent shutdown of oil shipments to Belarus, which followed a dispute over natural gas prices. She is pressing Russia to sign a charter with the European Union on energy, which Moscow has resisted.

Mrs. Merkel alluded to another potential confrontation between Europe and Russia. The United Nations is weighing a proposal that would put Kosovo on the path to independence from Serbia, which Russia opposes because it fears that such a move could upset its own turbulent relations with ethnic groups in the Caucasus. Russia has crushed one separatist-minded people within its own borders, in Chechnya, but supports two breakaway regions in Georgia: Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“We’re going to come to the stage where we have to decide: does Serbia, does Kosovo want to move in the European direction?” Mrs. Merkel asked. “If that’s the route they choose, both will have to make compromises.”

C. J. Chivers contributed reporting from Moscow.

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