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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Mixed-Up Munich Message

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Munich may not have been the best venue for a conference on European security. It brings to mind British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who signed an agreement with Adolf Hitler there. Upon returning to London, Chamberlain declared, "I believe it is peace for our time." One year later, World War II erupted.

President Vladimir Putin seemed a bit agitated during his speech Saturday at the Munich conference. He complained about U.S. unilateralism, NATO expansion, and the fact that Russia's interests are not taken seriously by the West. At the same time, his speech contained scattered praise for U.S. President George W. Bush, as if Bush were not the one pursuing the very policies Putin had just criticized and his administration had not engendered the current levels of international hostility toward the United States.

While the politically correct European left constantly claims that it opposes Bush but has nothing against the American people, Putin seems to feel the other way around: The United States appears to be the problem, but Bush is a great guy. The most likely explanation is that Putin's speechwriters simply let him down again. It is nothing unusual for Kremlin offices to issue texts ridden with discrepancies. If this is the case and the inconsistencies are confined to the text that Putin read, then things aren't so bad. What would be worse is if these inconsistencies actually reflect what Putin thinks.

Whatever the case, it's hard to accuse Putin of being insincere. The irritation with the United States that surfaced during the speech reflects not only the Kremlin's attitude, but also the feeling on the streets in Moscow. In this sense, Putin was truly speaking on behalf of his people.

The response from Washington was entirely understandable. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the speech was reminiscent of the Cold War, while Bush's national security spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, labeled the statements as "wrong." U.S. officials apparently have a better understanding than others of what is "right" and "wrong" in the speeches of foreign leaders. Members of the U.S. Senate also referred to the past, with Republican John McCain characterizing the address as "the most aggressive speech from a Russian leader since the end of the Cold War," and independent Joseph Lieberman calling it "provocative, with echoes of the Cold War."

The Cold War, though, was a conflict between opposing ideologies. There is no such clash between the White House and the Kremlin. Putin has never been counted among the radical opponents of the United States, and his administration operates according to the same free market principles as does Bush's, a point Putin failed to mention in his speech. In fact, the two administrations share a similar ideology, and both presidents implement their policies in a similar fashion. To the observer, Putin and Bush seem to share a sincere affinity for each other.

And unlike Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, Russia's leaders have a strong belief in capitalism, revere and respect power, and are entirely ready to accept Washington's elected officials as the legitimate leaders of the country. But problems are bound to appear if it seems that the United States is behaving unreasonably. What should Moscow do if the White House follows a course not only at variance with Russia's interests, but with common sense? The Washington establishment doesn't seem to understand that its foreign policy is far less popular globally than it might appear to be from Capitol Hill. Perhaps rather than taking offense at Putin's speech, Washington should thank him for his friendly words of caution.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.