If you believe the hype, Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich this weekend was little more than a declaration of a new Cold War. If you look more closely, though, it’s little more than a reminder to the world that Russia’s foreign policy is based on realism – something we’ve known for a long, long time.
Seriously, apart from the tone, was there anything in this speech that actually surprised anyone? Here’s my summary of the speech:
- Russia wants a multipolar world, and believes in realpolitik.
- Unilateral actions make Russia nervous lets all abide by the UN Charter.
- The dominance of the US is a threat to world security, and is in danger of sparking an arms race.
- Russia wants to take an active part in the global community and the international marketplace, but feels that there is often one rule for Russia, another for the rich.
- Russia will defend its interests.
And here’s the full transcript of Putin’s speech, for those of you with time to kill.
I was actually quite impressed in a way by Putin’s assertiveness. To me, it seemed to demonstrate that, while Putin knows that Russia isn’t the power that the Soviet Union once was and certainly lags behind the West in many ways, he is confident that Russia’s position in the world today is secure, and that it is a country on the way back up. His conclusion, I thought, encapsulated Russia’s growing confidence and – whisper it – self awareness:
Russia is a country with a history that spans more than a thousand years and has practically always used the privilege to carry out an independent foreign policy.
We are not going to change this tradition today. At the same time, we are well aware of how the world has changed and we have a realistic sense of our own opportunities and potential.
I also found it interesting that, in amongst the criticism Putin doled out to the United States, he also found the time to rap China on the knuckles for testing whether one of its missiles could destroy a satellite in space.
There were problems with the speech, of course. It was very noticeable that, although Putin took care to tell the world that violence would not solve the worlds problems, he wasnt able to come up with any constructive alternatives. And, of course, while he was happy to stick the boot in during criticism of other countries military ventures and abuses, he pretty much ignored Russias own failings. (But, then again, how many countries’ Presidents these days actually take pains to flagellate themselves in front of international audiences. I can’t think of many).
Overall, though, Im happy to see that Putin felt able to be blunt. Its not the start of a new cold war, but it is clear that not every country in the world shares the same worldview, and that Putin feels that Russia has the opportunity to become a standard bearer of sorts for countries who share one particular worldview.
I actually found the speech quite refreshing.