Putin Threatens Europe

It is a strange mind set that sees defense as a form of offense. Russian President Vladimir Putin is now warning the United States and its European allies that any attempt by them to defend against incoming nuclear weapons will bring increased targeting of their cities by Russian warheads.

Such is the logic of a chess-playing people, perhaps, but this is more than just that: it is paranoia, fear, idiocy, and the begrudging acknowledgement of western power.

“If the American nuclear potential grows in European territory, we have to give ourselves new targets in Europe," Putin said in an interview published Sunday in Italy’s Corriere della Sera and other foreign media. He added: "It is up to our military to define these targets, in addition to defining the choice between ballistic and cruise missiles."

Read alone, Putin’s comment sounds as if America had just decided to plant a bunch of offensive nuclear missiles upon European soil, all aimed at Russia. But that is not the case by any stretch; what we are talking about is defending our allies against an increasing Iranian threat in particular, along perhaps eventually with other Arab states which are trying now to keep up with Iran by announcing their own nuclear programs.

What we are trying to do is create a defensive shield capable of shooting down hostile missiles and to provide an early warning system if any such missiles were about to be launched. Indeed, according to the A.P.’s Nicole Winfield, the United States made “a formal request earlier this year to place a radar base in a military area southwest of Prague, Czech Republic, and 10 interceptor missiles in neighboring Poland as part of plans for a missile defense shield” that the Bush Administration says would help protect against a potential threat from Iran.

We know, of course, that the Russians have a history of employing “tactics” in dealing with nuclear issues. They bristled at former U.S. President Reagan’s “Star Wars” fearing that it would give the West an unfair “advantage.” They were very suspicious when Reagan said he would offer the technology to them for free.

Given the avowed wish of total destruction of the West by certain terrorist groups, and their possible ability to control states possessing weapons of mass destruction, it makes perfect sense for more civilized nations to seek to protect themselves as best they can.

As a matter of fact, given the nature of recent Iranian threats against Russia in connection with the construction of Iran’s nuclear plants, Russia itself might wish to come to its senses and see that the enemy is not America or Europe, but the militants they themselves are arming in their own backyard.

The latest Russian re-targeting is the first overt threat to Europe since Russia agreed after the fall of the Soviet Union not to direct missiles against specific countries. But it is really of no consequence in any event as a nuclear armed missile can be re-directed to any course within about twenty minutes if not less.

So, of course, a lot of Putin’s noise is simply posturing as we draw close to the open of the G-8 Summit. The three-day summit, Wednesday to Friday at the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm, will bring together leaders of the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, and Japan.

Posturing or not, however, at least some of Europe took umbrage with Putin’s remarks. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, for example, accused Russia of misleading the public about the planned missile defense bases in the Czech Republic and Poland:

“Russia needs an outside enemy to hide problems at home," Topolanek said.

Perhaps a quiet conversation or two over Maine lobster in Kennebunkport this summer between Presidents’ Putin and Bush will do the trick. One thing is for certain: the spread of nuclear weapons in the mid-East is not a good thing and the need for European nations to have a strong and unified defense is clearer now than at any time since World War II. Nor should any nation, Russia included, be able to block another nation from attempting to protect itself from surface to air annihilation.