President Vladimir Putin met yesterday with veterans of the Great Patriotic War in advance of today’s Victory Day holiday, which marks the 57th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s declaration of victory in the Second World War. The Russian head of state used the opportunity to offer historical justification for his decision to move the country’s foreign policy westerly. Calling the victory over Nazi Germany “a common victory achieved by people living in different countries, by people of different nationalities, religions and convictions” over a common enemy, Putin drew a parallel with the situation today. The “united front of countries fighting against international terrorism,” he declared, was radically changing the whole system of international relations. “We all came to understand that an evil like terrorism cannot be handled alone,” the Russian president said. “Our common struggle against it must be just as uncompromising as was our struggle against fascism.”

At the same time, there was a possible note of ambiguity at the end of Putin’s speech. Emphasizing the need to avoid making “the same mistakes” while building a new system of international security, he declared that “[a]ny attempts at establishing dictatorship or gaining distinct advantages over the rest are just as destructive from the point of view of global stability as they were six decades ago.” Whether this was a warning–and, if so, to whom–was left ambiguous.

Less ambiguous were comments made today during a press conference held by a critic of Putin’s westward course–Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, a leading hawk who was moved out of the Russian Defense Ministry last year. Washington’s and Moscow’s strategic objectives remain “at opposite poles,” declared Ivashov, who, in contrast to Putin, accused the United States of using the antiterrorist campaign to establish world domination. Ivashov also charged that Washington was trying to “cement its strategic offensive and defensive arms advantage” by withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and insisting on storing warheads cut under a new arms control treaty that may be signed when Putin meets with U.S. President George W. Bush in Moscow later this month.