- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The Russian Prime Minister has made global headlines again this week (not by frolicking with a snow leopard, though he did that too) with some highly-charged comments about the international intervention in Libya:
"The resolution is defective and flawed," said Russia’s Putin, whose country did not use its power to veto the resolution at the United Nations. "It allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades," Putin added.
President Bush was blasted for using the word ‘crusade’ in reference to the war on terrorism, so the remark seems like a pretty pointed shot at the Obama administration on the eve of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ visit to Moscow. President Dmitry Medvedev has distanced himself from Putin with a rare rebuke, calling the comments "unacceptable."
But remarks like these are something of a specialty for Putin, who seems to relish the opportunity to pour cold water on the ambitious initiatives of other world powers, particularly when their senior officials are within earshot.
For instance, in a 2003 joint press conference with Tony Blair shortly after the invasion of Iraq, Putin mocked the U.S.-British coalition’s failure to find WMDs:
“Two weeks later they still have not been found,” he told a press conference. “The question is, where is Saddam Hussein? Where are those weapons of mass destruction, if they were ever in existence? Is Saddam Hussein in a bunker sitting on cases containing weapons of mass destruction, preparing to blow the whole place up?”
In 2007, as more U.S. troops "surged" into Iraq, Putin attacked U.S. foreign policy at a Munich Security Conference audience with both Gates and John McCain in attendance:
In a presumed reference mainly to the war in Iraq, Mr Putin said, “unilateral illegal actions have not resolved any single problem,” emphasising the many more people who had been killed as a result of US military action.He added: “We don’t have enough force to resolve anything comprehensively.” He said that only the United Nations – not Nato or the European Union – could authorise the use of military force around the world, and even then it should be as a last resort.
At the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, he compared western financial rescue packages to Soviet economic planning:
“Interference of the State, the belief in the omnipotence of the State: that is a reaction to market failures,” Mr Putin said in his keynote address at the opening of the four-day meeting. “There is a temptation to expand direct interference of state in economy. In the Soviet Union that became an absolute. We paid a very dear price for that.”
He also singled out the U.S. for economic arrogance:
"I just want to remind you that, just a year ago, American delegates speaking from this rostrum emphasised the US economy’s fundamental stability and its cloudless prospects," he said in his speech.
"Today, investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist. In just twelve months, they have posted losses exceeding the profits they made in the last 25 years. This example alone reflects the real situation better than any criticism," Putin scoffed.
In Oct. 2009, Putin took a parting shot at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, following her Moscow trip, describing efforts to tighten sanctions on Iran as "counterproductive":
"If we speak about some kind of sanctions now, before we take concrete steps, we will fail to create favorable conditions for negotiations," Putin said. "That is why we consider such talk premature."
If the Libyan engagement does extend into a quagmire, as many fear, Cameron, Sarkozy, and Obama can expect some hearty I-told-you-sos from the Russian prime minister’s office.