International Herald Tribune
Andrew E. Kramer
May 9, 2007
MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin of Russia obliquely compared the foreign policy of the United States to the Third Reich in a speech Wednesday commemorating the 62nd anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, in an apparent escalation of anti-American rhetoric within the Russian government.
Putin did not specifically name the United States or NATO but used phrasing similar to that which he has used previously to criticize American foreign policy while making an analogy to Nazi Germany.
The comments marked the latest in a series of sharply worded Russian criticisms of the foreign policy of the Untied States – on Iraq, missile defense, NATO expansion and, broadly, the accusation that the United States has striven to single-handedly dominate world affairs.
Some political analysts see the new tone as a return to Cold War-style rhetoric by a country emboldened by petroleum wealth. But Russians say the sharper edge is a reflection of frustration that Russia’s views, particularly its opposition to NATO expansion, have been ignored in the West.
Putin’s analogy came as a small part of a larger speech in which he unambiguously congratulated Russian veterans of World War II, known here as the Great Patriotic War.
Speaking from a podium in front of Lenin’s Mausoleum on Red Square before troops mustered for a military parade, Putin called Victory Day a holiday of “huge moral importance and unifying power” for Russia and went on to enumerate the lessons of that conflict for the world today.
“We do not have the right to forget the causes of any war, which must be sought in the mistakes and errors of peacetime,” Putin said.
“Moreover, in our time, these threats are not diminishing,” he said as he delved into what one expert said was clearly an allusion to U.S. foreign policy. “They are only transforming, changing their appearance. In these new threats – as during the time of the Third Reich – are the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world.”
The Kremlin press service declined to clarify the statement, saying Putin’s spokesman was unavailable because of the holiday.
But Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies, who works closely with the Kremlin, said in a telephone interview that Putin was referring to the United States and NATO. Markov said the comments should be interpreted in the context of a wider, philosophical discussion of the lessons of World War II. The speech also praised the role of the allies of the Soviet Union in defeating Germany.
“He intended to talk about the United States, but not only,” Markov said in reference to the sentence mentioning the Third Reich. “The speech said that the Second World War teaches lessons that can be applied in today’s world.”
The United States, Putin has maintained, is seeking to establish a unipolar world to replace the bipolar balance of power of the Cold War era.
In a speech in Munich on Feb. 10, he characterized the United States as “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.”
The victory in World War II, achieved at the cost of roughly 27 million Soviet citizens, still echoes loudly in the politics of the former Soviet Union, particularly in Russia’s relations with the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
In his speech, Putin criticized Estonia – also indirectly – for recently relocating a monument to the Red Army in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, along with the remains of unknown soldiers buried there. Putin warned that desecrating war memorials was “sowing discord and new distrust between states and people.” The remarks were a nod to the protests in Russia and Estonia after the relocation of the Bronze Soldier memorial from the city center to a military cemetery.
In last May’s Victory Day speech, Putin brushed on similar themes of the lessons of the war. Then, he spoke of the need to stem “racial enmity, extremism and xenophobia” in a possible reference to rising ethnic tension inside Russia.
Victory Day has evolved into the principal political holiday in Russia, replacing the Soviet-era Nov. 7 celebration, Day of the Great October Socialist Revolution. That holiday was canceled under Putin and replaced with another, marking a 1612 uprising against Poland, celebrated on Nov. 4.
Veterans gathered at war memorials festooned with red carnations sang “Katyusha” and toasted departed comrades in traditions little changed over the decades. The Red Square parade opened, according to tradition, with drummers from the Moscow Military Music Academy and closed with the marching band of the Moscow garrison. The defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, arrived in a gray Zil convertible limousine. About 7,000 soldiers sang the Russian national anthem a cappella.
At one point, a formation of MiG jets thundered over the square. As the planes pulled up and away, a pilot broadcast a message to the veterans over his radio. “We love you and remember you.”