Most everyone I have been speaking to this week was indeed expecting Vladimir Putin to make some comments about Estonia during his Victory Day speech, and, true to form, he did not disappoint. In addition to his harsh warning, he also speaks of “new threats” which seek to “establish an exclusive dictate over the world.” Such language is reminiscent of his comments in Munich complaining about US unilateralism and the need to move toward a multipolar world. (to be precise, in Munich Putin said that the United States “has overstepped its national borders in every way” and denounced the “almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts.”) For President Putin to comment on the evils of the Third Reich and elliptically allude to the United States in the same breath, he is following in the footsteps of Herta Daeubler-Gmelin (a member of Gerhard Schroeder’s cabinet), audaciously comparing George Bush to Adolf Hitler. The president must make it perfectly clear what “threats” he is referring and apologize for this confusion. Ever since the harsh words of the February Munich speech and the continuing bitter spat over missile defense, we are observing an increasingly strident tone coming out of Moscow rooted in the fear of the upcoming bogus elections. The decisions being made in this context of fear are in danger of threatening not only the innocents who demonstrate against him, but the very fabric of peaceful relations established since the end of the Cold War. Most importantly, this truculent grandstanding is not working toward Russia’s benefit: Mr. Putin’s hysteria is being met with incredulity on both sides of the wall he is attempting to construct. This important and honorable holiday marked a unique opportunity for the Russia to do something unexpected, defrost a few relationships, and win over some new friends, but in the end the president defaulted to instinct, and gave us more of the same confrontational language that has been building over the past four months.
Victory Day not only unites the people of Russia but also unites our neighbours in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. We are deeply grateful to the generation of people whose difficult fate it was to face this war. They have passed on to us their traditions of fraternity and solidarity and their truly hard-won experience of unity and mutual aid. We will preserve this sacred memory and historical legacy. Those who attempt today to belittle this invaluable experience and defile the monuments to the heroes of this war are insulting their own people and spreading enmity and new distrust between countries and peoples. We have a duty to remember that the causes of any war lie above all in the mistakes and miscalculations of peacetime, and that these causes have their roots in an ideology of confrontation and extremism. It is all the more important that we remember this today, because these threats are not becoming fewer but are only transforming and changing their appearance. These new threats, just as under the Third Reich, show the same contempt for human life and the same aspiration to establish an exclusive dictate over the world.