Thursday, February 24, 2005

Putin's Shame - V

As George Bush meets the Russian president in Bratislava today, it might be useful for him to remember the cast of mind and interpretation of history he is about to encounter, face to face:

February 22, 2005
Putin interviewed ahead of Bratislava
BBC Monitoring

In an interview with Slovak journalists ahead of his summit meeting with George Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin said relations with the USA were at an all-time high. He also rebuffed foreign criticism of the development of democracy in Russia, and compared the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact to the Munich Agreement between Hitler and Chamberlain. The following is text of the interview as carried by
Russia TV as part of its "Vesti" news bulletin: subheadings have been inserted editorially.

[Presenter of Russia TV's "Vesti" bulletin] Prior to his visit to Slovakia, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin gave an extensive interview to that country's journalists. One key issue on the agenda is the Russian president's meeting with George Bush. The very first question was about Russian-American relations.

[Putin] We are working at meetings and we write to each other various letters and documents. We regularly talk on the telephone. We are in continuous contact, including personal contact and contacts at the level of heads of the main ministries and departments, at the level of heads of the security councils. We and the United States share a large joint workload in the sphere of the economy and in the area of international security, the struggle against terrorism. I think that we will perhaps speak about all these problems again, go back to them. In any case, there are many areas of mutual interest.

Meetings of this kind are always important, not just because they provide an opportunity to take stock of joint work over the previous period but also because they allow us to plan steps for the near future. It is true that the president of the United States has more than once called me a friend of his and I also consider him to be my friend. But we meet [George Bush] to get some work done, all the same. As for the fundamental relationship between Russia and the USA, I agree with the assessment of my American colleagues: it has never been as strong as it is now. The level of trust is very high, as is the level of cooperation on key issues of the modern world.

Foreign democracies not perfect

[Presenter] Recently certain Western politicians have raised the issue of the development of democracy in Russia. This was mentioned during the interview.

[Putin] Fourteen years ago Russia made her choice for democracy. This was not in order to pander to anybody else, but for herself, for our own country and our own citizens. Naturally, the fundamental principle of democracy and the institutions of democracy have to be adapted to the realities of modern Russian life, and to our traditions and history. And we will do this ourselves. In this respect we proceed on the basis that a well-meaning view from outside, even if it is a critical view, will not hinder us but can only help. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that even in the countries with so-called well-developed democracies, there are still plenty of issues and problems. Life goes on, and changes, and permanently presents us with new demands of the present day.

When in friendly conversation we point to certain problems like this in Western countries, as a whole, even obvious things, criticism of an obvious nature, obvious criticism, our partners answer that, well, we understand there is a problem there, but it just worked out that way and we all got used to it, and it would be better not to change anything. You know, there was a politician in Africa, President Bokassa, who was in a habit of eating his political opponents. Well, we are not saying, you know, this is the way it worked and let's not change anything. These are weak arguments. It should always be a bilateral dialogue of people concerned, a dialogue of friends. And we are ready for such a dialogue. But we are against using these problems as an instrument for achieving someone's foreign policy ambitions. Or, for making Russia into something amorphous in political terms in order to manipulate such a large and integral entity in international relations as our country.

Molotov-Ribbentrop pact a response to Munich

[Presenter] In connection with the forthcoming victory anniversary, foreign journalists were interested in Putin's views on attempts to re-write certain pages of the history of the Second World War

[Putin] As far as those who are trying, or would like to rewrite history and reduce the importance of this event, are concerned, to diminish the part played by the Soviet Union and the Soviet Red Army in the victory over Nazism, we understand what events these attempts are related to. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is often being mentioned. At which, it is said, an agreement was reached between the Soviet Union and Hitlerite Germany, with subsequent annexation of the Baltic territories. What can one say to this? Everything has to be considered in the context of historical events. I would like then to ask you to return to the events of September 1938, when the well-known agreements between Nazi Germany and West European countries were signed in Munich - which later on were referred to as the "Munich pact".

I should also like to remind you that on the part of the Western allies, it was signed by Daladier of France and British Prime Minister Chamberlain. And on the other side, it was signed by Mussolini and personally by Hitler. The Russo-, or Soviet-German document was signed at a much lower level - at the level of foreign ministers - and a year later, in response to the signing by the Western countries of the agreement which today is called the Munich pact. I would also recall, and this would probably have a particular significance for you as Slovaks, that subsequently as a result of the Munich pact, Czechoslovakia was given to Nazi Germany to be ripped to pieces. And the Western partners in a way indicated to Hitler where he should go to satisfy his growing ambitions - to the east. In order to ensure its interests and its security on its western borders, the Soviet Union chose to sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Germany.

If we look at the problem that is bubbling up today in this context, it looks entirely different. I would advise the new-found historians, or more precisely, those who want to rewrite history, that before rewriting it and before writing books, they should learn to read them.

(via Marius)
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