This account, translated from a Russian newspaper, conveys the drama of Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech in Munich on Feb. 10, 2007.[1]  --  "It seems to me that Putin had been preparing for this statement all his life (or at least since being involved in big-time politics)," wrote reporter Andrey Kolesnikof....


[Translated from Kommersant ('The Businessman') (Russia)]

By Andrey Kolesnikov

** 'We all knew that we were present at a historic event. We were witnesses to Vladimir Putin's 'Munich speech' . .&nbsnp;. it seemed to me that a curtain was ready to come down between him and the audience, and that this was an 'Iron Curtain.'" **

** On Saturday, President Vladimir Putin of Russia spoke at the Munich Conference on Security Policy. In regard to the United States and NATO, *Kommersant* special correspondent Andrey Kolesnikov found his speech so aggressive that the only thing missing was a shoe in his hand to bang the podium with, just as Chairman Nikita Khrushchev did so famously on a similar occasion. **

Kommersant (Russia)
February 12, 2007
or (original)

The conference began with a speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She was surrounded by friends in the auditorium -- NATO's defense chiefs, U.S. senators, members of the Bundestag and European Parliament, experts, businessmen from forty countries. And there was Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, listening with such rapt attention that one might have thought he was looking at Yulia Timoshenko [His former prime minister, who now leads the Ukrainian opposition]. But in my opinion, President Vladimir Putin hardly listened to a word she said. Perhaps he was preoccupied with thoughts of his own impending turn at the podium.

It seems to me that Putin had been preparing for this statement all his life (or at least since being involved in big-time politics). He has long wanted to express himself -- or in other words vent his spleen -- about the direction of Russia's relations with the Western world. He undoubtedly knew exactly what he was doing.

Angela Merkel had a far different ambition. Unlike Putin, she spoke while seated at a table near the podium. She told us that, "NATO is the most powerful expression of global political stability." She alleged that in Afghanistan, NATO was on "the right track, even if it's proving more difficult than we originally thought."

Vladimir Putin sat directly in front of her, in the first row just below the Chancellor, and my impression was that he was outside looking in, so to speak. Everyone there felt this to be the case.

While looking down on the Russian President, Merkel said in regard to "our" relations with Russia, there are certain areas in which it will be impossible to come to an agreement. But she said that it would be mistaken to think it possible to maintain stability without one another . . . when one sits opposite the President of Russia, it is a challenge to talk aloud about Kosovo. [Editor's Note: Russia is against any international solution to resolving Kosovo's status, in good measure due to Russian displeasure with NATO].

After she took several more questions, she left the stage and was followed by Putin.

Mr. Putin didn't even smile -- he finished writing something into his speech and in my opinion, he grew dark. He clearly had something on his mind. Taking everything into account, after the President's speech, raising issues like Kosovo in his presence again -- by Merkel or anyone else -- will prove even more difficult to do.

"If my comments seem unduly argumentative, pointed, or inexact to our colleagues," the President began with a warning, "then I would ask you not to get angry with me. After all, this is only a conference. And I hope that, after the first two or three minutes of my speech, Mr. Teltschik will not turn on the red light over there," in reference to the conference host, who controlled the podium timer light.

Several minutes earlier, Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, had asked the German chancellor a question, and he made the point that NATO's increasing role in international affairs has actually led to a marked deterioration in global security, and so he assumed that it was necessary to reform NATO.

Merkel explained that at the beginning the 1990's, instability in the former Yugoslavia had caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee, but that the instability had come to a halt after NATO intervened.

Merkel, staring fixedly at Mr. Kosachev, said "It's easy to say: well, why hasn't there been more progress?! I would suggest how much worse it would have been had there been no NATO!"

It was clear from this exchange with Mr. Kosachev that even if this issue were discussed all night long, neither side's position would change terribly. On the contrary, it served to show that in Russia, a long-awaited confidence in the future had finally returned.

After answering several more questions somewhat unsteadily and looking shaky, Angela Merkel disappeared from the scene, after dropping some papers in her path.

After mounting the platform, Mr. Putin issued an earth-shattering warning.

"The unipolar world that had been proposed after the Cold War did not take place . . . However one might embellish this term, in the end it refers to one type of situation, namely one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making. It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And in the end this is pernicious, not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within. And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority."

Validimir Putin made it clear that he would defend democracy to the last.

"Incidentally, Russia -- we -- are constantly being taught about democracy." He paused and with a smile and scanned the room of sober-minded people, seeming to consider the absurdity of the situation. No one smiled back, and even Mr. Kosachev just sighed ambiguously.

"But for some reason those who teach us don't want to learn themselves! . . . Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centers of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished . . . And no fewer people perish in these conflicts -- even more die than before. Significantly more, significantly more!"

At this conference, the Russian President chose, perhaps unconsciously, a particular oratorical method. He began to repeat certain phrases several times, obviously seeking to sound more convincing.

"We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law," he continued. "And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to the legal system of one particular state. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States . . ."

He hesitated before pronouncing the name of this country [the U.S.]. Most likely, he didn't plan to say the name outright, but then resolved that failing to do so would leave things unclear and would appear somehow cowardly. He understood that the speech would lose some of its impact if he dropped the country's name.

He continued, ". . . independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state's legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every respect. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural, and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this? . . . And of course this is extremely dangerous. The result of this is that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this -- no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them!

Eventually he got to the constructive part of his speech.

"But do we have the means to counter these threats?" he asked. "Certainly we do. It is sufficient to look at recent history. Didn't our country have a peaceful transition to democracy? Indeed, we witnessed a peaceful transformation of the Soviet regime -- a peaceful transformation! And what a regime! With what a number of weapons, including nuclear weapons! Why should we start bombing and shooting now at every available opportunity? Is it the case when without the threat of mutual destruction, we lack enough political culture, and respect for democratic values and the law?"

Merkel unexpectedly nodded her head at this point. Putin discussed the stagnation of the disarmament process: "We hope that our partners will also act in a transparent way and will refrain from laying aside a couple of hundred superfluous nuclear warheads for a rainy day."

Then Mr. Putin drew attention to the stalemate in the field of disarmament, which the world has somehow forgotten in recent years.

"Missile weapons with a range of about 5,000 to 8,000 kilometers that really pose a threat to Europe do not exist in any of the so-called problem countries," he said.

"Together with the United States of America we agreed to reduce our nuclear strategic missile capabilities to up to 1,700-2,000 nuclear warheads by December 31, 2012. Russia intends to strictly fulfill the obligations it has taken on. We hope that our partners will also act in a transparent way and will refrain from laying aside a couple of hundred superfluous nuclear warheads for a rainy day. And if today the new American Defense Minister declares that the United States will not hide these superfluous weapons in warehouse or, as one might say, under a pillow or under the blanket, then I suggest that we all rise and greet this declaration standing. It would be a very important declaration."

Vladmir Putin made a long pause, and with a paternalistic smile looked over at U.S. Defense Secretary Gates.

Meanwhile, I caught myself realizing that with the Russian president's apocalyptic attack on the U.S. and NATO, not a single bad word had been uttered about the European Union. Moreover, he took the opportunity to try and pit the U.S. against the European Union.

"Missiles with a range of about five to eight thousand kilometers, which truly pose a threat to Europe, don't exist in any of the so-called problem countries. And in the near future and prospects, this will not happen and is not even foreseeable. And any hypothetical launch of, for example, a North Korean rocket to American territory through Western Europe obviously contradicts the laws of ballistics. As we say in Russia, it would be like using the right hand to reach the left ear!"

In terms that he hadn't allowed himself to use until now, Vladmir Putin severely criticized NATO's expansion to the east.

"And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them. But I will allow myself to remind this audience what was said. I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on May 17, 1990. He said at the time that: 'The fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.' Where are these guarantees?!"

President Putin has also accused Western countries of not allowing in Russian investment.

Journalists in the bar that had been converted to a press center listened to Putin's speech with bated breath. Many were so captivated by the Russian president that stopped writing, forgetting that they even had pens.

"We are open to cooperation. Foreign companies participate in all our major energy projects. According to different estimates, up to 26 percent of the oil extraction in Russia -- and please think about this figure -- up to 26 percent of the oil extraction in Russia is done by foreign capital. Try . . . try to find me a similar example where Russian business participates extensively in key economic sectors in Western countries. Such examples do not exist! There are no such examples!"

Finally the president turned his attention to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has long aroused strong feelings from him. This time he made no effort to control those feelings:

"They are trying to transform the OSCE into a vulgar instrument designed to promote the foreign policy interests of one or a group of countries. And this task is also being accomplished by the OSCE's bureaucratic apparatus, which is absolutely not connected with the state founders in any way. Decision-making procedures and the involvement of so-called nongovernmental organizations are tailored for this task. These organizations are formally independent but they are purposefully financed and therefore under control!"

To me it was interesting to consider: what will happen when Mr. Putin is finished? Will there be applause, at least out of politeness? Finally, I felt an appreciation for the fact that for Vladmir Putin, he was finally able to intelligibly summarize all the work that he has done since becoming President of Russia. One could say that now, he has everything in the palm of his hand.

We all knew that we were present at a historic event. We were witnesses to Vladimir Putin's "Munich speech." It was clear that this was a speech that would go down in history. Whether there was applause -- or their absence, that much was clear.

At the end of the President's speech, the applause was tepid. But finally, Constantine Kosachev appeared more animated.

After this Vladmir Putin didn't disappear, for now there were questions to answer.

QUESTIONER: "You could admit that thanks to NATO expansion, the eastern borders have become more reliable, more secure. Why are you afraid of democracy? I am convinced that only democratic states can become members of NATO. This stabilizes neighbors. . . . About what is happening inside your country. The murder of Anna Politkovskaya was a symbol. One can say that this affects many journalists, makes everybody afraid, and the law on non-governmental organizations also causes alarm."

QUESTIONER: "I am confident that the historians of the future will not describe our conference as one in which the Second Cold War was declared. But I could be wrong."

Some conference participants were impressed by the President's speech, which themselves could not seem to properly explain but which was clear by the hesitant tenor of their voices. This gave their questions added poignancy.

"I understand your sincerity," said one American senator, "and I hope that you will accept our sincerity. First of all, about arms control. Who needs a new arms race? I want to point out that the U.S. has not developed a new strategic weapon in more than two decades and that you recently tested the Topol-M missile, and that it is already deployed in silos and on mobile installations. You criticized the United States for unilateral actions and said twice that military actions can only be legitimate if they receive U.N. approval. The United States is carrying out military actions in Iraq and in Afghanistan according to U.N. decisions and today in Kosovo the majority of troops are supporting peace-making operations in this country."

On the whole, questions fell on Mr. Putin "like a hailstorm."

QUESTIONER: "You talked about the danger of a unipolar world in which one sovereign makes a decision without consulting anyone else. In many people's opinion, in Russia we are seeing an increasingly unipolar government where competing centers of influence are forced to tow the party line, whether it be in the State Duma, the regional leadership, the media, business communities, or non-governmental organizations . . ."

The President answered these questions for about a half-hour. He said, that, "all our actions within Russia, including changing the State Duma election regime, the election regime in the Russian parliament, are designed to strengthen a multi-party system in Russia." And it seemed to me that Putin could care less whether anyone in this hall believed him.

The President: "NATO is not a universal organization, as opposed to the U.N. It is first and foremost a military and political alliance, military and political! Well, ensuring one's own security is the right of any sovereign state. We are not arguing against this. Of course we are not objecting to this. But why is it necessary to put military infrastructure on our borders during this expansion? Can someone answer this question?

Mr. Putin looked attentively at the paper on which were written questions.

"You know, I wrote so illegibly here that even I can't read my own writing. I will therefore answer what I can read and if I do not answer something, please remind me of the question.

"What will happen with Kosovo and with Serbia? Only Kosovars and Serbs can know. And let's not tell them how they should live their lives. There is no need to play God and resolve all of these peoples' problems. Together we can only create certain necessary conditions and help people resolve their own problems."

Some in the hall sat simply like stones. On the faces of others, I saw a plea: "Well although God should not be addressed directly! Take us, we are guilty!"

President Putin: ". . . if one of the participants in this difficult process feels offended or humiliated, then the problem will last for centuries. We will only create a dead end."

Vladmir Putin expressed himself briefly about the experience of Russian soldiers in Chechnya: "Their experience is not pleasant, but it is extensive."

At some point it became clear that Vladmir Putin had begun to get tired. He had already spoken for an hour-and-a-half. Answering a question, about why in "the 90's, Russia helped Iran develop missile technologies," the President of Russia stated:

"It was other countries that worked very actively towards this. And technology was transferred through different channels. . . . At the time I gave these proofs directly to the President of the United States. And technology also came from Europe and from Asian countries. . . . So Russia is hardly at fault here. I assure you. Russia is the country least involved here. Least of all. If it is involved at all."

It was clear immediately that his answer was not understood: the reasons for Iranian armament were mixed, but Russia was least of all involved? Vladmir Putin decided to correct the confusion:

"At the business level something could have happened. We trained experts in institutes and so on. And at the request and according to the information of our American partners we reacted harshly to this. Immediately and harshly. We didn't observe such a reaction from our other partners, including our European partners. Moreover, I don't know whether you are aware of this but you should know that military technology and special equipment are still coming from the United States. Up to now. Up to now, spare parts for F-14 planes come from the armed forces and the Pentagon. As far as I know, there is even an investigation taking place in the United States on this. And despite the fact that this investigation is proceeding and that these spare parts were seized at the border and then sent back, after a certain amount of time, according to the data I have -- and if they are not correct then check them -- those same cargoes were again seized at the border. Even bearing a tag 'material evidence.'"

The President of Russia considered that there is no foundation for suspecting Iran of having rockets that threaten Europe: "You are mistaken. Today Iran has -- Mr. Gates is here today and certainly knows this data better than I do, and the Russian Defense Minister is also here -- missiles with a range of 2000 kilometers."

"Sixteen to seventeen hundred kilometers!," shouted Sergey Ivanov, but not Mr. Gates.

"Sixteen to seventeen hundred kilometers," agreed Mr. Putin. "Only. Well, count how many kilometers there are between Munich and the Iranian border. Iran has no such missiles. They plan to develop some with a range of 2400 kilometers. It is not known whether they have the technology to do so. And with respect to 4,000, 5,000, or 6,000 kilometers, then I think that this would simply require a different economy."

Vladimir Putin was very much was delighted with a question about how U.S. is not developing nuclear arms, but that Russia is. It isn't the fact of this that pleased Putin, but rather that Russia is succeeding in finding a technological means to adequately and inexpensively answer the new American anti-missile system.

"But we even now to ask about this will not be . . . We know that the developments occur, was not held nevertheless it. -- But let us make a form, that we about this do not know. They do not develop. But that we do know? This that which in the USA actively is developed and antimissile system already takes root. If you say that the antimissile system [pro] is not directed against us, then our new weapon is not directed against you."

Putin: "Yes, the United States is ostensibly not developing an offensive weapon. In any case, the public doesn't know about this. Even though they are certainly developing them. But we aren't even going to ask about this now. We know that these developments are proceeding. But we pretend that we don't know, so we say that they aren't developing new weapons. But what do we know? That the United States is actively developing and already strengthening an anti-missile defense system . . . I completely agree if you say that the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) is not directed against us, just as our new weapons are not directed against you.

"What have I forgotten," Mr. Putin asked the people in the hall.

To seemed to me that a curtain was ready to come down between him and the audience, and that this was an "Iron Curtain."

It goes without saying that he neglected to answer the question about human rights in Russia.

Translated by William Kern.