Putin's Middle East tour in context of Munich speech


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - The Munich speech by President Vladimir Putin continues to make waves among the public and political establishments in many countries.

Some describe it as a new Cold War declaration, others as Russia's "long-awaited return to the world stage as a counterweight to the U.S." Both opinions appear equally wrong.

Putin's message was an appeal to the international community to renounce the Cold War legacy and start building relations of mutual trust. His words, as he made clear to reporters during his Mideast tour, which shortly followed the Munich speech, were mostly addressed to Washington.

In fact, President Putin said nothing new or sensational. What was sensational about his presentation was its tone and bluntness. As Putin himself put it, he just said in public what had long been said in private. While he did not spell it out, it has long been clear that the U.S. didactic tone in foreign policy annoys many nations.

Putin's message was this: attempts to impose a unipolar world order have had tragic consequences around the globe. A unipolar model is just impossible in today's world. There are many centers of power already, in terms of both economic and strategic influence. One nation cannot impose its policies upon the others, even more so because it is far from being a model of democracy or morality itself. Considering all these factors, Russia stands for an equal and respectful dialog with all countries, the U.S. included, but reserving the right to a tough response wherever its interests are infringed.

"We should state our views frankly, openly and honestly," he told the media in Amman. "I think that it is through this approach that we can open the road for normal, honest and candid dialogue, and I think that there are people in the United States who will hear our voice and try to build relations with us based on friendly equality and without a lecturing tone."

Significantly, the Russian president went on a tour of three Arab nations immediately after his Munich speech. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan are traditional U.S. allies. And sure enough, many would wonder whether these visits in the context of Putin's latest statements should be viewed as a show of force by Russia and an attempt to counter U.S. policy in the region. The answer is a resolute no. Even before the tour, Putin emphasized that Russia was not planning to compete with any nation in any region. What we want is cooperation, he said.

Still, Putin's visit to the Arab world shortly after his Munich presentation can be considered symbolic. Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, president of a Russian think tank, Academy of Geopolitical Affairs, said it should be viewed in the context of the "Delhi-Munich-Middle East triangle." It is here that the turn in Russia's foreign policy is being made, according to the expert. "The impressive outcome of Vladimir Putin's visit to India and revived relations with China and East Asia in general show that Russia is really turning to the East," he said. This adds to the regular contacts between senior Russian officials and Tehran, along with intensified engagement with the Arab world.

According to Ivashov, Moscow is trespassing on the U.S. sphere of influence by expanding its Middle East ties. He believes Russia has a greater potential in that region today than the U.S., Britain or NATO.

This is an expert opinion, not the position of the Russian president who, while contrasting Russian and Western policies in various regions, reiterated during his Munich speech the need for nations to cooperate in resolving global crises.

Obviously, no matter how much Moscow is respected in the Middle East, it cannot solve all of the region's problems alone; neither does it have ambition to do so. Russia calls for cooperation with Europe and the United States, and draws their attention to other centers of power across the world, which need to be taken into account.

"The combined GDP measured in PPP of countries such as India and China is already greater than that of the United States," Putin pointed out in Munich. "And a similar calculation with the GDP of the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China - surpasses the cumulative GDP of the EU. There is no reason to doubt that the economic potential of the new centers of global economic growth will inevitably be converted into political influence and will strengthen multipolarity," he said.

Russia is establishing close contacts with all of the world's centers of power, both existing and potential, provided they are ready for dialog. If one or more of them refuse, Russia cannot be blamed. It will never start a new Cold War, but reserves the right to be ready for this turn of events.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

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