Wednesday, June 06, 2007

G8 from Economist website

The G8 summit

Putin takes aim

Jun 5th 2007

A row about Russian missiles hangs over the G8 summit


GERMANY'S swish resort of Heiligendamm might escape addition to the Kremlin’s list of new nuclear targets in Europe, given President Vladimir Putin’s visit there. But that will provide little reassurance for the seven leaders of the world’s big, rich and long-standing democracies that make up the rest of the G8. They, and Mr Putin, will meet at the seaside setting on Wednesday June 6th before the summit begins officially the next day.

The Kremlin’s spin doctors are trying hard to play down remarks made by Mr Putin about aiming his country’s missiles at Europe. They claim that he was giving a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question about America's planned missile-defence installations in Eastern Europe. But the damage to Russia’s image as a friendly country has been done. Russian officers and officials have grumbled before about America’s sometimes cavalier attitude to strategic security. This time the combative words came from the top. Even at the height of their row over Iraq, it is impossible to imagine that France would have targeted its nuclear weapons on Britain or America, let alone the other way around. Just as democracies do not make war on each other, they do not point nuclear warheads in each other’s direction.

Germany will hope to salvage something from the summit’s original agenda of aid for Africa and climate change. Difficult though those issues are, they pale by comparison with the difficulty of dealing with a newly assertive Russia.

So far, the western response has been to describe Mr Putin’s remarks as unhelpful rather than outrageous. As so often with tough talk from Russia, outside governments try to dismiss it as aimed for internal consumption, and thus not to be taken seriously. But treating Russia as an unruly adolescent to be part-soothed, part-ignored, works badly.

One reason is that Russia’s assertiveness has not been matched by a clear expression of what its government actually wants. The commonest refrain from the Kremlin is the desire to be noticed and taken seriously. Paradoxically, the more that Russia shows itself to be a sham democracy and bullying neighbour, the less willing other countries are to treat it with much respect.

At this week’s summit, Mr Putin may notice the absence of the man who was previously his staunchest defender: Jacques Chirac, France’s former president. His successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, is keen to break with the cosy and sometimes mysterious habits of French policy towards Russia. He promises a “frank” exchange with Mr Putin. Mr Sarkozy’s family fled communist Hungary. Like Germany’s Angela Merkel, who grew up in the Soviet-run part of Germany, he finds Mr Putin’s nostalgia for the Soviet Union repellent.

Yet dislike of Russia’s current path does not create unity. Both France and Germany are unenthusiastic about America’s planned missile-defence installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. President George Bush continues to protest that these are aimed at Iranian nuclear weapons, not at Russia. But with the exception perhaps of Britain's Tony Blair, a lame-duck ally who will shortly leave office, he will find little support from his western counterparts. The American leader may save the hard talking on nuclear issues for later: he has invited Mr Putin to the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, early next month.

And for all Mr Bush’s warnings about Russia’s departure from democracy and good neighbourliness, America still needs Mr Putin’s help, chiefly on curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions but also on the future of Kosovo, which it wants to bring to the UN Security Council soon.

So after so much unpleasantness in past weeks, it may be in all countries’ interests to patch things up as much as possible. Mr Putin in particular likes to portray himself both as a strong defender of Russia’s interests and as a welcome guest at the world’s top table. Fostering the latter image will require at least a temporary change of tone, if not of approach. Most G8 summits produce a welter of carefully honed platitudes, in which differences are finessed and blurred as much as possible. This one is likely to be no exception.


Unknown said...


Having read through a translated transcript of Putin's answer regarding targeting missiles at Europe in yesterday's JRL, my reading of Putin's answer is that they would be targeting the missile shield sites themselves not arbitrary European targets.

Here's the exact (as translated) question & answer:

CORRERE DELLA SERA ... And the second point. You said that you do not want to participate in an arms race. But if the United States continues building a strategic shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, will we not return to the situation and times in which
the former Soviet Union�s nuclear forces were focused on European cities, on European targets?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Certainly. Of course we will return to those times. And it is clear that if
part of the United States' nuclear capability is situated in Europe and that our military experts
consider that they represent a potential threat then we will have to take appropriate retaliatory
steps. What steps? Of course we must have new targets in Europe. And determining precisely
which means will be used to destroy the installations that our experts believe represent a potential threat for the Russian Federation is a matter of technology. Ballistic or cruise
missiles or a completely new system. I repeat that it is a matter of technology.

The key parts of his answer are:

"... that they represent a potential threat..."

The word "they" being key as it refers to the US missile shield sites NOT non-military sites.


"... destroy the installations that our experts believe represent a potential threat..."

Here the word "installations" is what he suggests might be targeted.

If my interpretation is in fact what Putin meant to say then it dramatically changes his answer from one of unbridled aggressiveness to one of brinkmanship. He's simply calling the West's bluff.

Good for him. Russia did not initiate this situation. It is simply responding to the cards which it was dealt.

- Tim Post

klx said...

Russia did not initiate this situation. It is simply responding to the cards which it was dealt.

russia is initiating a new situation all by itself. rejecting any trust or friendship with the west, and ignoring reassurances that the weapon sheield is to protect from obvious and clear enemies iran and north korea, russia is desperate and pathetic in its attempts to reassure itself of its own relevance in world affairs - and in doing so might well do more damage than even itself can imagine (and not just to it's own non-existant reputation).

dmitriy said...

>Mr Sarkozy’s family fled communist Hungary. Like Germany’s Angela Merkel, who grew up in the Soviet-run part of Germany, he finds Mr Putin’s nostalgia for the Soviet Union repellent.

Edward, please do a little fact-checking when your write your articles. Angela Merkel's father Horst Kasner moved with his family from British occupation zone to Soviet zone in 1954 and exchanged his West German passport for an East German one. This was not an arbitrary decision.
In East Germany he worked on bringing Evangelical Church closer to the regime.
When the Berlin Wall was built he was allowed to travel abroad, so he was clearly very loyal to GDR. Angela Merkel grew up in a privileged and pro-communist family.

dmitriy said...

One more thought. Horst Kasner moved from West to East in 1954. Why did he do this? He was neither a Communist, nor a total idiot, believing in "worker's paradise".
"In 1958 Kasner became the head of what was known as the ‘Pastoral College’ (Pastoralkolleg) in Templin, a training centre for Protestant clerics and at the same time something like a spiritual centre for his Church. Later, however, he was called ‘Red Kasner’ because he attempted to come to terms with the GDR state and was even a leading member of a ‘brotherhood’ of pastors, the ‘Weißensee Work Group’, who co-operated with the state authorities. This group came under the influence of the State Security Police."

Was he recruited by Stasi? I guess no. If the Communists wanted to build a loyal East German church they would find someone in East Germany, not in the British occupation zone.

Did he work for a German cause? No, he opposed unification of Germany and supported separate East German church.

So, there is only one reasonable opportunity left - Horst Kasner worked for a British secret service.

Giustino said...

What exactly did Merkel's father have to do with Merkel's views?

Do share the same politics as your father, Dimitriy?

Deny. Obfuscate. Make counter allegations.

dmitriy said...

>Do share the same politics as your father, Dimitriy?
Do you?

What I am denying? Edward is denying that Angela Merkel was raised in a very pro-Communist family.

Edward Lucas said...

Putin's remarks certainly repay careful parsing. One could also interpret them as meaning new as in additional targets in Europe.

Dmitriy: I have spoken to Merkel at some length. Whatever her family background, she loathes communism and has unhappy personal memories of it. Being raised in a pro-communist (or anti-communist0 family is neither here nor there.

Please stop ascribing MI6 links to people, alive or dead. I have deleted another post of yours on this. These smears are impossible to disprove, and insofar as they relate to living people, they may be defamatory--in which case I get sued for libel.

dmitriy said...

Under communism, almost everyone is unhappy, even Party officials. Of cause if someone was raised in a pro-communist family he will not himself be necessarily pro-communist. Still, he will see things from a different perspective.