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Today’s “new” news in Russia is the commentary about how the West did not heed President Vladimir Putin’s speech in 2007 in Munich. Izvestia reported today, May 14th, that The Hill an American political news website, notes very specifically that the West appears not to have heeded President Vladimir Putin’s speech in 2007, and instead, ignored his comments in pursuit of a “unipolar world” headed by the United States. The article goes on to say that this deliberate calculation is largely responsible for the existence of the present war in Ukraine.
To be precise, the Izvestia article starts in this way (translated, with any errors my own):
The West made the mistake of ignoring the main message of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Munich speech in 2007. On May 11, a columnist for The Hill writes about this.
The publication recalled that 15 years ago, the Russian leader insisted on commitment to the idea of a multipolar world. At the Munich Security Conference, he launched an angry tirade against the US as “the only pole of power” and against NATO expansion.
“Participants in the meeting were shocked by the vigor of Putin’s attacks, but on the whole they brushed them aside. It was a mistake,” the journalist said.
The author of the article also expressed the opinion that the President of Russia considered the reaction of Western leaders to his theses disrespectful.
Earlier, on February 13, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the problems identified by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Munich speech in 2007 had increased, although Moscow wanted them to decrease.
The day before, Peskov noted that Putin’s Munich speech in 2007 was revolutionary in terms of direct presentation of pressing problems, with a vision of the future. He stressed that all the aspects touched upon by the president are now. A spokesman for the Russian leader pointed out that these problems need to be addressed.
Prior to that, on February 10, Horst Teltschik, a former adviser and ally of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, revealed the details of Putin’s speech at the Munich Conference in 2007.
He pointed out that during his speech at the conference, Putin raised a number of important issues – in particular, it was about the danger of deploying American missile defense systems in Romania and Bulgaria.
At the same time, Telchik pointed out that the opportunity for a new Russia-NATO dialogue after Putin’s speech was missed.
Now, let’s do two things: First, let’s look at the actual Hill piece to see if this lines up with what the actual piece says, and then let’s look at President Putin’s Munich speech itself. The text of The Hill piece, written by Harlan Ullman, is reproduced in its entirety, but with my added emphases:
In an interview last week with the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Pope Francis said that “NATO barking at Russia” caused the Kremlin “to react badly and unleash the conflict.” Yet, entirely dismissing the pope’s stunning remark might be short-sighted because, certainly, some U.S. and NATO actions did indeed cause the Kremlin to “react badly.”
Over the past 22 years in particular, several of America’s policies, miscues and miscalculations towards Russia have backfired. None can be used as an excuse for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal and horrific war in Ukraine. But a brief review of U.S.-Russian relations underscores the power of unintended consequences.
Putin became acting Russian president on New Year’s Day 2000, the same year George W. Bush would be elected America’s 43rd president. The Boris Yeltsin presidency left Russia in dire straits, psychologically damaged by the demise of its once superpower status. In his Millennium Address that day, Putin provided the outlines of how he would restore Russian greatness.
Initially, Bush and Putin got along. But the new administration’s obsession with Iran as the enemy led Bush to focus the Pentagon on missile defense and space. One consequence was that Bush announced America’s intent to withdraw from the 1974 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that had been central to the U.S.-USSR strategic relationship. Abrogating the treaty did not go down well in Moscow, especially given the the huge military technological lead the Kremlin believed Washington had after the 1991 Gulf War. That was before 9-11.
When America intervened in Afghanistan in late 2001, Putin was irritated because the Bush team rejected Russian advice based on its decade-long failure in that country. In 2003, Putin strongly counseled Bush against invading Iraq, as the Russian leader feared the region would be thrown into turmoil. And the continuing expansion of NATO was neuralgic for Russia. A series of U.S. administrations downplayed or ignored how serious this issue was for Russia.
At the Munich Security Conference, Putin unleashed an angry broadside against the U.S. as a “uni-power” and against NATO expansion. Participants were shocked by the intensity of Putin’s attacks but otherwise largely dismissed them. That was a mistake. It was clear that Putin believed he was being disrespected and marginalized by the U.S. and NATO, adding to his growing resentment about the patronizing treatment he believed Russia was receiving.
The 2008 NATO Summit at Bucharest was perhaps the turning point. Georgia and Ukraine had applied for NATO MAP — Membership Action Plan, the roadmap to full membership. Blocked by France and Germany, MAP was denied. But in a throwaway line, President Bush stated that Georgia and Ukraine could at some date join. That “promise” was included in the final summit report so as not to offend the American president.
Putin was outraged and told Bush “this will not stand,” echoing George H. W. Bush’s response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Bush dismissed the warning.
In 2008, Putin provoked Georgia to respond to a Russian “false flag” operation and subsequently occupied South Ossetia and Abkhazia. With contested borders, Georgia was technically ineligible for NATO membership. Six years later, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine following the Maidan Square protests and the unseating of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych, accusing Washington of abetting regime change.
In 2016, Russia was charged with interfering in U.S. presidential elections and widespread hacking operations. Despite President Trump’s attempt to improve relations with Putin, at best they remained frozen. Some Democrats accused Trump of being Putin’s “useful idiot.” And relations were made more toxic by a series of U.S. defense strategies, beginning with the Obama administration targeting Russia as one of five potential adversaries to be “deterred and, if war came, defeated.”
Perhaps the incompetent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 convinced Putin he could take bold action in Ukraine without much risk. After massing troops on Ukraine’s borders, Russia subsequently sent demands to the U.S., NATO and EU calling for a new European security framework; NATO retraction to the West; and denying Ukraine NATO membership. Each was rejected.
Instead, the U.S. proposed talks on strategic stability and arms control, ignoring Putin’s key demands. When Putin decided to invade Ukraine is unclear. But from his perspective, he was left with no choice. Ukraine was a vital Russian interest to be resolved by war if necessary. The West failed to comprehend that.
Could any U.S. actions have prevented war? Probably not. But failure to consider unintended consequences is a lesson that should not be forgotten. Perhaps that is what the pope meant.
In my own opinion, the last paragraph of Harlan’s piece is an example of trying to appease the elites who want this war in the United States, and who even have nuclear ideations about it, based on the kind of rhetoric we get. Sure, Russian authorities have also been dropping the rhetoric of nuclear war in the period of this conflict, but it was Great Britains Liz Truss that began this round, not Vladimir Putin. Again, seen from the Russian perspective, this war is an attempt to STOP the NATO expansion and proxy war that was already in action since 2014.
Naturally, the Western Europeans and the United States ignore the truth of their own people involved in a slow, but brutal, war of attrition in the Donbass following the declarations of independence from Ukraine by the two republics there, Donetsk and Lugansk.
Harlan’s analysis is very sound, and part of what is interesting here is that this article made it to the light of day in a significant (and often perceived left-leaning) political publication. As our own Editor in Chief, Alexander Mercouris repeatedly has pointed out in other examples, it appears that cracks are developing in the absurd narrative about this war that was spun by Americans who appear to have smoked far, far too much cannabis to create really good propaganda. However, they still scored a major success in swaying the American population because a great many of the people of our nation are on too many psychotropic meds, pluscannabis, so they are also unable to think straight.
Even with all this in the West’s favor, the truth of this situation appears to be getting revealed, as truth always does. Whether or not the full picture is shown to enough people in the United States to mobilize them to stop their government’s behavior remains to be seen. But, we are trying to help that happen.