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Putin's 2007 Munich Speech: Stark Prophecy or Reasonable Warning That Fell on Deaf Ears?

© Sputnik / Dmitry Astakhov / Go to the mediabankRussian President Vladimir Putin addressing the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy held at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy held at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel - Sputnik International, 1920, 10.02.2023
Sixteen years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a landmark speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference. In it, he called NATO's easterly expansion a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. He also nailed the unipolar world order as an unrealistic and hypocritical project.
"I think the major significance of the speech was that it was the first systemic critique of the western approach to international relations," explained Dmitry Suslov, deputy director of the Center for European and International Studies at Russia’s Higher School of Economics.
The Russian president likewise took aim at the "American approach to international relations and to US foreign policy, in which Vladimir Putin presented the United States as the major destabilizer of the international system and stated that the world would reject the American global hegemonic project," the also deputy director of research at the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy told Sputnik.
"Previously, the predominant narrative in the United States was that the US-led order will ultimately become global, and other countries, other great powers, including Russia, will ultimately accommodate themselves within the system as junior partners. So Putin's message was that they would not, and Russia would not in particular," the Russian scholar continued.
Putin explained at the time that the natural type of international system is multi-polarity, with his speech indicating Russia's desire to challenge the US unipolar and hegemonic project, according to Suslov.
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The Russian scholar explained that there were two key factors that prompted Putin to deliver such a speech on February 10, 2007.
First, because the concept of multipolarity started to gain momentum at that time. The second half of the 2000s was a time of a profound change of the international system, according to Suslov.
He noted that the unipolar project promoted by the United States started to crumble with the failures of Washington in both Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, BRICS, a non-formal group of developing nations initially comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China and later joined by South Africa, started to emerge. In September 2006, the foreign ministers of the initial four BRIC states met in New York City at the margins of the UN General Assembly.

There were also some manifestations of multipolarity before, such as the Russia-China Joint Declaration on the multipolar world and international order. Actually, ten years before Vladimir Putin delivered his speech, in 1997, it was the project of Evgeniy Primakov, the prominent Russian foreign minister of that time. But Putin's speech was very systemic, and basically, Putin's speech highlighted the separation line, the dividing line, which ended basically the period of unipolarity, the unipolar moment in international systems in general, because such a great power as Russia started to systemically resist these policies of the United States.

Dmitry Suslov
Deputy Director of the Center for European and International Studies at Russia’s Higher School of Economics.
Second, since 2006, the George W. Bush administration started to openly discuss the desirability of Ukrainian and Georgian accession into NATO. The US-backed 2004 "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine brought to power President Viktor Yushchenko who put NATO accession at the top of his foreign policy even though it sat in clear contradiction with the country's Declaration of Sovereignty of July 16, 1990.
Prior to that, Bush unilaterally tore apart the ABM Treaty and started to build a global strategic missile defense system, including its position site in Europe which was seen by Russia as a threat given the NATO weapon's strike capabilities.
"Since the United States started to openly discuss this NATO enlargement to the post-Soviet countries, even beyond the Baltic States already in 2006, so in 2007, it was very important for Putin to make this warning," the Russian scholar stressed.
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NATO Expansion and Forgotten Pledges

"Putin’s speech was an outstretched hand to the West and proof of his readiness to sit down and talk about the new world order after the Cold War," Alfred de Zayas, professor of international law in Geneva, former UN Independent Expert on International Order (2012-18), and a retired senior lawyer with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Sputnik.
According to de Zayas, humanity had a brief moment of hope until then-US President Bill Clinton greenlighted NATO's eastward enlargement in 1997 thus breaking the promises given by US Secretary of State James Baker to Gorbachev.
"Russia was not threatening anyone in 1997 – Russia wanted to join the West under the banner of the United Nations and the UN Charter, which is akin to a world constitution, the only existing “rules-based international order," de Zayas stressed.
During his 2007 Munich speech, Vladimir Putin specifically addressed the issue of NATO's enlargement by directly asking western leaders against whom this expansion was intended.
"It turns out that NATO has put its frontline forces on our borders, and we continue to strictly fulfill the treaty obligations and do not react to these actions at all," Putin noted at the time. "I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust."
Putin wondered what had happened to the assurances the US and Western European officials made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and quoted then-NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner who publicly stated on May 17, 1990, in Brussels that "the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee."
In December 2017, the National Security Archive, a non-profit at the George Washington University, released a trove of de-classified documents showing that these assurances were not only verbal but were also put on paper. Throughout the process of Germany's unification in 1990-91, US Secretary of State James Baker and leaders of the UK, France, and Germany promised Gorbachev and other Soviet officials that NATO would not expand eastward, judging from numerous memos, diplomatic cables and transcripts of talks.
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Putin Sought to Ensure Security & European Stability

Vladimir Putin's strategy has been logical and transparent regardless of the western press' attempts to depict him as a reckless and rogue leader, according to de Zayas. Putin consistently called to build common security starting from the 2007 Munich speech and through December 2021 when Moscow handed the US and NATO Russia's draft security proposals.
Likewise, Moscow has repeatedly warned the US and its NATO allies against the transatlantic bloc's expansion to the east and articulated Russia's grave concerns with regard to the steady, creeping militarization of neighboring countries.
Moreover, the Russian president repeatedly underscored the nation's commitment to cooperate with the West to solve pressing global issues in coordination and cooperation.
In his June 22, 2021, article for the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Putin reiterated the idea of building a Greater Europe – "from Lisbon to Vladivostok" – which would be united by common values and interests. He particularly referred to Charles de Gaulle's dream of a "single continent" which is connected not only geographically but also culturally and civilizationally.
The problem was that the West repeatedly snubbed Russia's warnings and rejected its offers, with the western mainstream press either overlooking or distorting them or resorting to smear, according to de Zayas.

Most people in the West were and are thoroughly unaware of Putin’s speech or for that matter of the text of the two proposals that he put on the table in December 2021, two draft treaties solidly anchored in the UN Charter and on the necessity of agreeing on a modus vivendi, agreeing on a security architecture for Europe and the world.

Alfred de Zayas
Professor of international law in Geneva and former UN Independent Expert on International Order
Moscow's draft security proposals looked to defuse tensions sparked by the transatlantic alliance's decades-long eastward expansion and Washington's efforts to arm Ukraine and create new military installations on Russia's doorstep. The drafts envisaged Ukraine's non-admission to the military bloc, non-deployment of offensive weapon systems near Russia's borders, and the return of NATO's European capabilities and infrastructure to 1997 levels.
The US, NATO, and the EU rejected Russia's draft security proposals prompting Moscow to take preventive measures and launch a special military operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine. Russia's operation invoked Article 51, Chapter VII of the UN Charter, with the sanction of the Federation Council of Russia and in pursuance of the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics.
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Putin's Warning Ignored

"It was difficult to imagine the depth of deterioration of the US-Russian and Russia-West relations at that time, especially the depth of collapse of Russia's relations with Europe," said Suslov. "But the precondition was already there: the attempts of the United States to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of the others, to build missile defense systems, to undermine strategic stability, to expand NATO towards the Russian border and to include Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, a world view that continued to be viewed by Russia as a great threat, as an existential threat, the struggle against which even justifies the use of military force."
Remarkably, a year after Putin's landmark speech at the Munich Security Conference, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was favored by the Bush administration at that time, decided to attack Southern Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers and got a decisive and proportionate response from Moscow.
Western leaders underestimated President Putin's 2007 warnings, according to Dr. Marco Marsili, associate fellow at the Centre for Strategic Research and Analysis and former public official and election observer for the OSCE/ODIHR.

"I believe that the error is due to the arrogance based on the assumed superiority of the United States and its allies," Marsili told Sputnik. "I believe that at the time Putin delivered the Munich speech, US President Bush was convinced that he was still facing [Boris] Yeltsin's Russia, a weak nation that had just emerged from the rubble of the Soviet Union, and which was unable to confront and pose a serious threat to western powers."

According to Marsili, western leaders should have taken his speech seriously, and started negotiations to redefine global governance, taking into account not only Russia, but also other emerging powers like China, India, and Brazil.
Instead of this, the US and its NATO allies invaded Libya in 2011 and destabilized North Africa and stirred the so-called "Arab Spring" in the Middle East, the former OSCE observer said. "You can't export democracy just like a cheeseburger!" Marsili stressed.
Then came the bloody coup d'état in Ukraine which was supported by the United States in 2014. After that, the United States started to promote the integration of Ukraine into the NATO-led structure moreso, and intensified joint drills and arming of the Ukrainian military.
According to de Zayas, the mainstream media bears considerable responsibility for failing to inform the public about Putin’s 2007 speech and about his repeated offers to negotiate in good faith as required by article 2(3) of the UN Charter.
It was clear from the start that NATO expansion and the weaponization of Ukraine constituted an existential threat to Russia, the professor noted, stressing that "the malevolent demonization of Russia and Putin since the early 2000s entailed a menace, a 'threat' of the use of force, which is equally prohibited in article 2(4) of the UN Charter."
"The significance of Putin's speech back in 2007 is that he gave a warning," Suslov emphasized. "Back then, he predicted that if the United States did not change its policies which they conducted at that time, there would be a very deep crisis. There would be a clash. There would probably be a war. There would probably be a global conflict, because the others, including Russia, would not tolerate the policies of the United States, which violate the national interests of the others. Unfortunately, the United States stayed with their course. And this is how we ended up in the current confrontational situation."
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