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Putin's Criticism of US Draws Mixed Reaction

A senior U.S. defense official says Russian President Vladimir Putin's sharp criticism of the United States in a speech last month did not succeed in creating doubts among U.S. European allies. But some analysts believe the speech did strike a chord among many people around the world. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

It was the annual security conference in Munich, where some of the world's top leaders and senior defense experts gather to exchange views.

President Putin surprised his audience, accusing the United States of taking a militaristic and unilateral approach to world affairs, and sparking a new arms race in the process.

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman was there, and he says President Putin did not accomplish what he appeared to be trying to do.

He said, "If he intended in this speech, if he intended in this prestigious forum to drive a wedge between the Europeans and the United States, I think it backfired."

The director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, Andrew Kuchins, agrees that European governments were generally not swayed by President Putin's speech.

But he says, a public opinion poll in Germany indicated that more than 65 percent of ordinary Germans agreed with the Russian president.

He said, "With general populations in Europe, and many other places around the world, I think many of the things Mr. Putin had to say were received well."

Kuchins says that is probably particularly true in such countries as China, Brazil and India, all of which, like Russia, want to play a larger role in world affairs and have concerns about the Bush administration's willingness to use military force.

He says the speech likely resonated in the Middle East, too, and he notes that President Putin visited three Middle Eastern countries immediately after he left Germany.

"His goal, since he became president, and what he sees now as his likely legacy, was to promote a Russian recovery to ensure that Russia would be a pole in a multi-polar world, and that the United States, in particular, needs to pay attention to the interests of Russia," he said.

In a VOA interview in advance of his retirement on Friday, Assistant Defense Secretary Rodman said President Putin's accusations are old and inaccurate.

He says the United States has been working multi-laterally on a variety of problems, including the efforts to address growing nuclear capabilities in Iran and North Korea. Still, he says, the Putin speech is a matter for concern.

"I think this reflects a disturbing tone in Russian foreign policy, a disturbing new turn, if you will, in Russian foreign policy," he said. "So I think this was a wake-up call for our European allies and for all of us."

Rodman says the western allies should now watch closely to see what follows the speech.

He said, "Speeches are not what's decisive. What's decisive are actions. And so we wait to see if some of this rhetoric is backed up by disturbing action."

Rodman says the United States wants to continue to build a constructive relationship with Russia.

That comment reflects the cautious response to President Putin offered by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who spoke at the Munich conference the following day.

"The real world we inhabit is different, and a much more complex world than that of 20 or 30 years ago," he said. "We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia."

At a U.S. Senate hearing this week, the new U.S. intelligence director, Mike McConnell, had a somewhat more ominous analysis of what was behind the Putin speech.

He said, "Those that he is listening to are extremely conservative, and very suspicious of the United States, and interpret things through a lens that portrays Russia as the downtrodden, or [that] we're trying to hold them back to the advantage of the United States. And my reading of that is that they're not interpreting the lens correctly."

The Interfax news agency reports a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman called McConnell's comments "old, outdated" and "not based on anything."

In the VOA interview, Peter Rodman said it was clear to him that the sentiments in the speech reflected President Putin's personal views.

"I also saw him mark it up," he said. "He was marking up his text before he went on, so I think this speech reflects his real thoughts. It wasn't just something prepared by others."

Russia expert Andrew Kuchins agrees with that, saying the views and style reflect many other Putin speeches he has heard, read and analyzed.

He said, "That was pure Putin, pure Putin, unadulterated, unplugged. And unfortunately, it does strike a chord around the world."

But Kuchins says the speech will likely not be well received in eastern and central Europe, where he says new western allies remain wary of any Russian effort to assert itself more strongly.