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October 14, 2007
Putin Keeps Rice, Gates on Ice Before Meeting
On Friday, Russian President Vladmir Putin kept the two top foreign policy officials of the United States waiting 40 minutes before appearing for the photo op and skewering his guests and their government on the planned missile defense for several countries in Europe:
Mr. Putin followed a pattern of recent criticisms of American policy, whether speaking in Moscow, Munich or even Maine, and he shaped the initial public tone on Friday when he greeted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at his residence outside Moscow with a derisive lecture in front of the television cameras. They should have asked him how that new air defense system they sold to Syria and Iran was working out.
Mr. Putin dismissed with sarcasm the American plan to build components of a missile defense system in formerly Communist nations of Central Europe as a reaction to a threat that had not yet materialized....
Mr. Putin seemed to catch Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice off guard with his remarks, since no public statements were planned in advance. Mr. Putin, though, arrived with notes and spent eight minutes welcoming the opportunity to talk about where Russia strongly disagreed with the Bush administration.
His remarks seemed to anger Ms. Rice, though Mr. Gates reacted impassively.
Despite Putin's theatrics, the talks evidently proceeded with a degree of cordiality. And yesterday, the Americans even reached out to the Russian government, promising to reach some kind of accomodation on the missle defense systems:
A day after a tense round of talks with Russian officials, the American secretaries of state and defense reached out to different constituencies here on Saturday in an effort to patch over what are widely seen as deepening differences between the countries. Clearly, Putin doesn't like the idea of the United States playing in backyard. What has him even more worried is the invitation to some of those nations to join NATO - something that would almost certainly revive the old Russiain fears of being hemmed in and ganged up upon.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates failed Friday to overcome the deep Russian distrust of an American missile defense system in Europe, which President Vladimir V. Putin publicly mocked as an obstacle to agreement on more immediate security matters. On Saturday, they sought to show that the United States and Russia could find common ground, or at least outward civility, even if their relationship was fraught with disputes.
But there are many former Soviet satellites and provinces that fear Russian revanchism and seek the protections the west has to offer. But as Putin continues his plans to destroy the opposition while maintaining a firm grip on the Russian government even when he "retires" next year, most nations on the periphery of the old Soviet Union will probably be under enormous pressure to maintain their distance from the west or suffer economic consequences.