- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2007

MAFRA, Portugal (AP) — President Vladimir Putin yesterday evoked one of the most dangerous confrontations of the Cold War to highlight Russian opposition to a proposed U.S. missile defense system in Europe, comparing it to the Cuban missile crisis of 45 years ago.

The comments, made at the end of a summit between Russia and European Union, were the latest in a series of provocative statements from the assertive Mr. Putin.

Emboldened by oil- and gas-fueled economic clout, Russia is increasingly at odds with Washington and much of Europe on issues ranging from Iran and Kosovo to energy supplies and human rights.

Mr. Putin used a press conference at the summit’s conclusion to reiterate Russia’s stalwart opposition to U.S. plans to put elements of a missile defense system in the former Soviet bloc countries of Poland and the Czech Republic — both of which are now NATO members.

“Analogous actions by the Soviet Union, when it deployed missiles in Cuba, prompted the ‘Caribbean crisis,’ ” Mr. Putin said, using the Russian term for the Cuban missile crisis.

“For us, the situation is technologically very similar. We have withdrawn the remains of our bases from Vietnam, from Cuba, and have liquidated everything there, while at our borders such threats against our country are being created,” he said.

The October 1962 crisis erupted when President Kennedy demanded that Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev remove his country’s nuclear missiles from Cuba because they could have been used to carry out a close-range attack on the United States. Americans imposed a naval blockade on Cuba and the world teetered on the edge of war before the Soviets backed down.

Mr. Putin also suggested that the tension was much lower than in 1962 because the United States and Russia are now “partners,” not Cold War enemies. His relationship with President Bush, Mr. Putin said, helps solve problems. He called the president a “personal friend.”

The Russian leader said there has been no concrete U.S. response to his counterproposals for cooperation on missile defense, but added that the United States is listening to Russia’s concerns about its plans and seeking to address them.

The U.S. plan is part of a wider missile shield involving defenses in California and Alaska, which the U.S. says are meant to defend against any long-range missile attack from countries such as North Korea or Iran.

Russia strongly opposes the idea, saying Iran is decades away from developing missile technology that could threaten Europe or North America, and it says the U.S. bases are aimed at spying on Russian facilities and undermining Russia’s missile deterrent force.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters there were “clear historical differences between our plans to deploy a defensive missile system designed to protect against launch of missiles from rogue states, such as Iran, and the offensive nuclear-tipped capability of the missiles that were being installed in Cuba back in the 1960s.”

“I don’t think that they are historically analogous in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Turning to his future, Mr. Putin said he would not assume presidential powers if he became prime minister after finishing his term next May.

Mr. Putin is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in the March 2008 presidential election. But he suggested this month that he could become prime minister. Mr. Putin will lead the ticket of the dominant United Russia party in December parliamentary elections.

Mr. Putin traveled to Portugal, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, for talks with leaders of the 27-nation bloc. But despite a positive spin put on the meeting by Mr. Putin and EU President Jose Manuel Barroso — who called it “open, frank and productive” — the summit yielded no major breakthroughs.

Topping the list of concerns is Russia’s energy policy — the reliability of supplies and the intentions of state-run oil and gas companies. Russia already provides 30 percent of EU energy imports, including 44 percent of natural-gas imports.

The state-controlled gas giant Gazprom has recently moved to acquire assets in Europe and strike bilateral deals with some EU countries.

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