Russia Aims to Counter US With Bigger Arsenal
Putin speech compares America to a wolf that "swallows without listening to anyone."
Moscow - President Vladimir V. Putin, in a blunt response to U.S. criticism of his domestic and foreign policies, declared Wednesday that Russia would boost its military strength to ensure its ability to resist foreign pressure.
In an annual address to parliament, Putin said new nuclear and high-precision weapons would enable the country to maintain a strategic balance with the United States, which he compared to a wolf - the archvillain of Russian fairy tales - doing as it pleases in the world.
"As they say, 'Comrade Wolf knows whom to swallow,'" Putin said. "He swallows without listening to anyone. Nor does he intend to listen to anyone, judging by all appearances."
Despite the strong language on international and military issues, the bulk of the speech focused on domestic policies. Putin called for wide-ranging measures to reverse Russia's sharp population decline, including giving nearly $10,000 to women who have a second child.
Putin's comments did not seem to signal a return to Cold War hostility so much as a bid by an increasingly self-confident nation to engage in tough bargaining on international issues and to reject interference in its domestic politics.
"We have slipped toward Cold War rhetoric quite a while ago, and such passages in Putin's speech are nothing new in that sense," said Georgy Satarov, president of the INDEM Foundation, a Moscow think tank that seeks to promote democratic values.
In Washington, the White House reacted sharply to Putin's address.
"We're still analyzing the speech, but we are disappointed that it did not address the concerns that many people have raised about Russia's commitment to democracy and its use of economic pressure against its neighbors," it said in a statement.
"The U.S. continues to work together with Russia on a number of important security and economic issues, even as we raise these concerns," the statement said.
Moscow's fresh assertiveness comes in part from rising oil prices, which have fueled strong economic growth in the energy-rich nation for the last seven years.
Putin said that even with Russia's recent increases in military funding, the United States spends nearly 25 times more. "This is what is described in the defense sphere as 'Their home is their fortress,' " he said. "Well done, guys," he added.
"But this means that we should also build our own home to be strong and reliable, because we can see what is happening worldwide," Putin said.
He ridiculed those who claim "the need to fight for human rights and democracy" when they actually have "the need to realize their own interests."
His remarks implied criticism of U.S. actions such as the invasion of Iraq, which Russia opposed. They also appeared to be a response to American accusations that Moscow has curtailed democratic freedoms at home and attempted to bully neighboring former Soviet states on issues such as energy supply and territorial integrity.
Speaking to Eastern European leaders in Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 4, Vice President Dick Cheney said Russia's government had "unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of her people," and he accused Moscow of using the country's gas and oil reserves as "tools of intimidation or blackmail." Cheney also criticized Russia's support for separatist enclaves in Georgia and Moldova.
Putin said Wednesday that because the United States so heavily outspends Russia in the military sphere, Moscow's aim was not to match U.S. forces in quantitative terms.
"We should not burn money uselessly," he said. "Our responses should be based on intellectual superiority. They will be asymmetric, less costly, but they will undoubtedly make our nuclear triad [ground, naval and air] more reliable and effective."
Over the next five years, Russia will "substantially increase the provision of strategic nuclear forces with modern long-range planes, submarines and launchers," Putin said. "Along with the means of overcoming the systems of antimissile defense, which we already have, new types of weapons enable us to preserve what is undoubtedly one of the most important guarantees of lasting peace - namely, the strategic balance of forces."
Putin said Russia was developing "unique high-precision weapons" and missiles "whose trajectory is unpredictable for the potential enemy."
Grigory A. Yavlinsky, head of the liberal Yabloko party, issued a statement saying the speech left Russia with an uncertain place in the world.
"The foreign policy set out in the address is a policy of a besieged fortress, mistrust of partners and the feeling of superiority over neighbors," Yavlinsky said. "There is still no answer to the question as to what Russia will be like, where it is going and with whom."
Putin stressed the need to develop the economy's technological side and acknowledged that Russia had not solved the growth-inhibiting problem of corruption in business and the government bureaucracy.
But he called the nation's post-Soviet demographic decline, a population loss of about 700,000 a year, the "most acute problem," and cited better healthcare, increased birthrates and the encouragement of immigration by "educated and law-abiding people" as ways to address it.
Putin put particular emphasis on financial incentives for women to have a second child, because many couples, faced with the difficulty of paying for housing and education in the new market-oriented economy, limit their families to one child.
His most dramatic proposal, that women be paid nearly $10,000 if they have a second child, could help defray those costs, Putin suggested.
He recited a list of other financial incentives for mothers. Special maternity payments, he said, should be boosted to $56 a month for the first child and $113 a month for the second, from the current $26 a month. Working women on maternity leave for up to one and a half years should receive from the state at least 40% of their previous salary, he said. Certificates for care at maternity clinics should increase to $263 from $188.
Putin also called for efforts to encourage the domestic adoption of Russian children. "I think foreigners adopt more of our children than our own citizens inside the country," he said, and he proposed that monthly payments to guardians and adoptive parents be nearly doubled, to at least $150 a month.
Parliament should act quickly so the population-boosting measures could take effect Jan. 1, Putin said.
Satarov, of INDEM, questioned how much the measures would affect birthrates. "To simply give people more money will not help resolve the demographic crisis," he said. "I think that is a very naive approach to this most complex issue."
But Moscow Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov had strong praise for the proposals in the speech, which included a 20% boost in pensions for the elderly.
"The message was stunning, pleasant and very businesslike," Luzhkov told reporters in the Kremlin, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
Leonid D. Ivashov, a former Russian Defense Ministry official who is vice president of the Academy for Geopolitical Problems, a Moscow think tank, said that in his view the Cold War never really ended, and was merely transformed into geopolitical rivalry.
"For a long time Russia didn't pursue an independent economic policy, nor did it pursue an independent policy on defense and security," Ivashov said. "By way of one-sided concessions, we were just giving up our positions one after another. President Putin made it clear today that this trend is over."