Russian President Vladimir Putin used a major annual European security conference in Munich -- sometimes dubbed the Davos of the defense world -- to accuse the United States of sowing disorder in the world. He said Washington had sparked a new nuclear arms race, ignored international law, undermined international institutions and bungled the invasion of Iraq. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave a measured, icy reply, telling the conference on Sunday, "One Cold War was quite enough."
Putin had assailed the US for its domination of global affairs. "Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper-use of force in international relations -- military force," he said, "Primarily the United States has overstepped its national borders, and in every area."
He was provoked by reports that eastern European countries like Poland and the Czech Republic may host bases for an American anti-missile system -- an expensive and controversial prospect dating from the administration of US President Ronald Reagan. The revival of "Star Wars" reminds some German commentators on Monday of the 1980s, and they wonder what it would mean to get caught between two great powers in a new and very different Cold War.
The left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"(Putin's) sharp attack on the United States has surprised and disturbed many western politicians. That's at least as surprising and disturbing as the speech itself. It's not so astounding that Moscow should be against American plans to expand a missile-defense system into eastern Europe -- what's astounding is the number of geostrategic setbacks Russia has accepted without protest in the last several years."
"The US ambition to build a missile-defense system is understandable, (and) it's just as understandable that Russia would react with a naked warning about provoking a new arms race. We Europeans live in a world where we will just have to get used to being weak players. (But) it can't be in our interests to allow the installation of a weapons system that will irritate an unpredictable, highly nuclear-armed neighbor."
The business daily Handelsblatt argues:
"It's dangerous and frustrating that the two nuclear superpowers have lapsed into a calculated simulation of the Cold War. Because in truth -- and frightened Europeans understand this best -- there are towering common strategic interests to be addressed. The acute threats to the east as well as to the west stem from the Middle East and its unstable regimes, as well as its central role in the world economy. Priority must be laid on finding a strong position here that everyone can accept."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"As the leader of Russia, Putin is no stranger to the very means and methods that he complains about. He uses them to some extent in Moscow's remaining sphere of influence. If he and Russia still had the power he would act no differently from the US and NATO.
"In a caustic and perhaps excessive tone, he expressed what weighs on not just Russia but also many people at the moment, (namely) the dangerous fixation of the US on military means to solve conflicts. ... If anything recalls the Cold War, it is less Putin's speech than his mention of President Bush's missile defense program."
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"When it comes to the analysis of new threats, (the United States and Russia) are in full agreement: The spread of weapons of mass destruction and medium-range missiles, terror, organized crime and Islamic fury, failed states and the wars and crises between the Mediterranean and the Gulf -- both consider these highly dangerous, without big differences."
"But then the Russians ask why must the Americans now start to station a big radar for missile defense in Eastern Europe? And why, the Americans ask, do the Russians have to deliver missiles to the Iranians?
"For Europeans the question is how to find security again -- with the Americans, and preferably not against the Russians. This can no longer be achieved with assurances of good will on all sides (much as the Germans like such rhetoric), with the Atlantic community here and the strategic partnership there."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"This is not the start of a new Cold War Putin's speech was a warning sign. Something has long been wrong in the relationship with Russia. And the dumbest thing NATO or the European Union could do now is to shift all the blame to the semi-democrat in Moscow."
"The mother of all failures has been the paternalistic way in which the winner of the Cold War has treated the loser The firm belief that America has emerged as the only superpower from the epic struggles of the last century with NATO as the global security agency has led the West to deal arrogantly with Russia."
"Russia is demanding a front-row seat once again and with its nuclear weapons, its size and its wealth in oil and gas, there are powerful arguments in its favor. The US with its disastrous Iraq adventure provides another argument. Because (the war) has damaged Western credibility, it has provided Putin with the opportunity to give a powerful voice to the growing number of countries and people who doubt the wisdom of the West's policies. The Russian President has laid his cards on the table. Europe and America now know Russia's position There is a lot to be said for not only listening to Russia's voice but for taking it seriously."
- Michael Scott Moore, 1:30pm CET