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Putin Digs In

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Vladimir Putin of Russia boasts of a resurgent Russia and scolds the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense. But his game is a potentially dangerous one.

For the last several years, gradually at first but at an accelerating tempo, Russia has reasserted itself in a revision of its Cold War ways. Once hopeful of a new Russia willing and able to cooperate more readily and effectively with the rest of the world community in fighting terrorism, dealing with nations like Iran and North Korea, and developing missile defenses; the U.S., NATO allies and others began to see a new more cantankerous Russia.

Some call this the “resurgent Russia.” We call it the recidivist Russia.

The driving force in all of this is President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Putin’s reluctance to join further with the West on issues such as fighting terrorism and fostering democracy, especially among the former Soviet Republics, has turned into intransigence.

The differences between Putin, the West, and the United States especially, were never more starkly on display than they were on October 12, 2007. In an effort to resolve differences between the U.S. and Russia, the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense waited to meet with Mr. Putin before they met with their Russian counterparts.

They waited. And waited.

In what looked like an intentional display of power, some say President Putin made his guests wait for something like 40 minutes.

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Then Mr. Putin launched upon a derisive criticism of the U.S. and especially the missile defense effort to include the Czech Republic and Poland.

Now Mr. Putin insists, unless the U.S. missile defense plan is scrapped or vastly revised, Russia will withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and deploy medium range nuclear armed ballistic missiles facing Europe. He has already walked away from the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which limited concentrations of troops and tanks, as an expression of anger at US plans to site a single radar station in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Moscow would be forced to take measures to “neutralize” the missile defense shield if it is built as planned.

It seems Mr. Putin will attempt to use European fear and public opinion plus his vast oil wealth as the levers of power to convince a weakened U.S. president to relent on missile defense.

As soon as Rice and Gates left Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow regarded the joint Japan-U.S. missile defense effort as an “object of concern.”

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So it isn’t just the Poland-Czech Republic plan that bothers the Russians – it is anything labeled missile defense.

Recall also that Russia and China conducted their first ever joint military training exercise under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). China and Russia have united to block U.S. and U.K. proposed sanctions against President Ahmadinejad and Iran over its nuclear program. And Russia and China have even blocked sanctions against Myanmar.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters on the way home from Russia: “My own view is that the Europeans are beginning to wonder what the Russians are all about.”

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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