Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 232

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin departed from a foray along the rarely traveled high road of Russian diplomacy yesterday when he launched a Cold War-era style attack on the West for opposing Moscow’s war in Chechnya. The tone of Putin’s remarks differed little from the bumptious and belligerent criticism of the West which President Boris Yeltsin made in Beijing last week, timing which suggests that the seemingly ill-chosen words may not have been altogether spontaneous. In Moscow, Putin had tried to take the edge off of the president’s remarks by underscoring Moscow’s desire to maintain cooperative relations with the United States and the West.

That brief show of statesmanship, however, was not in evidence yesterday when Putin, like Yeltsin, brandished Russia’s nuclear arsenal as a threat allegedly capable of countering any Western opposition to the war in Chechnya. “Some nations and blocs under cover of international organizations are interfering in the affairs of independent states, and are trying to speak to them in the language of force,” Putin said. “We are not used to such language, because Russia has a nuclear shield.” Putin was also quoted as saying that Russia would use “all diplomatic and military-political levers at its disposal” to confront Western opposition, and listed Russia’s nuclear arsenal as one of them. “No one,” he said, “can accuse the government of inappropriate use of antiterrorist measures in Chechnya, or call Russia an aggressor or an occupier,” he added (AP, Russian agencies, December 14; International Herald Tribune, December 15).

Putin’s remarks, appropriately enough, were made to a gathering of Russian officers following the successful test of a Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile. Since his ascent to the post of premier, Putin has gone out of his way to court the defense establishment. His remarks yesterday were nicely crafted to match the rhetoric which military hardliners have voiced in recent months. They have argued that NATO’s air campaign earlier this year in the Balkans was aimed in part at intimidating Moscow, and that the Western alliance could be contemplating similar attacks on Russia for its war in the Caucasus. That alleged NATO threat–along with the instability along Russia’s southern border–has been used by military and civilian hardliners to argue for increased defense spending and a buildup of Russia’s military forces. But it seems to have served most effectively as a political platform for Putin and others, one which is aimed at exploiting popular resentment of the West and widespread frustrations over Russia’s humiliation and loss of status in the post-Soviet period.