Putin blasts idea of US missile defence system with bases in Czech Republic, Poland

Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK

Echoes of the cold war: that is how some observers characterised Russian President Vladimir Putin recent reaction to US plans to expand its missile defence system in Europe. At a conference in Munich Mr Putin attacked the idea of the missile defence system (which includes a proposed interceptor rocket base in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic), saying such a move could not go unanswered. But what kind of answer might we see?

Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK
Vladimir Putin used last weekend's Munich security summit to sharply criticise the proposed construction of a US missile defence system in Europe. He said the move was yet further proof of Washington's "very dangerous" approach to international relations, which was fuelling a global arms race. But specialists like Petr Kratochvil from Prague's Institute of International Relations, say that the Russian president's words, while strong, were not altogether surprising.

"I would say that it was to be expected. There is a growing list of differences between the United States and Russia, and among these there is of course the missile defence system and possible bases in Central Europe. President Putin is under enormous pressure from conservative Russian circles, especially from the army, and so his calls for cooperation, indeed almost an alliance with the US which we have witnessed so far on international terrorism, is somewhat shattered."

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: CTK
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who was also at the Munich summit, rejected the Russian president's position, comparing Mr Putin's words to Soviet-era posturing. He made clear with strong words of his own that the Czech Republic would not be pressured on the issue of a US radar base on Czech territory. Now, it seems that the bases - though far from decided yet - will remain a strong sticking point between Russia and the US. Says Petr Kratochvil, the Czech Republic has found itself in similar situations before:

"That's a long-standing debate between American politicians and Russia, because Russia of course does not believe that even that NATO expansion - one of the major issues on which they also did not see eye-to-eye - that the expansion was in fact not aimed against Russia. I would be really surprised if Mr Putin conceded on this one particular issue if we consider the overall context.

"I'd be quite sceptical with regards to the Russian reaction: we had such threats before and they usually evaporated quite quickly after the decision was taken. The same applies to NATO expansion, before the Czech Republic and other central European countries became members. There was similar 'sabre rattling' but then after we became members Russia calmed down. I expect that Russia will behave like that even now."