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Putin’s Munich Speech 15 years later: What prophecies have come true?

Fifteen years ago today, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the Munich Security Conference with a speech that was instantly interpreted as the harshest-ever manifesto since the Cold War era

MOSCOW, February 10. /TASS/. Fifteen years ago today, on February 10, 2007 Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the Munich Security Conference with a speech that was instantly interpreted as the harshest-ever manifesto since the Cold War era, but Putin himself does not believe that he went too far back then in any respect.

NATO’s expansion, a unipolar world, disarmament problems, the erosion of the OSCE as an institution, the Iranian nuclear problem and Europe’s energy security - TASS has summarized Putin’s warnings and prophecies from his Munich speech that have come true simply because nobody turned an attentive ear to them.

NATO’s eastward expansion foments tension

Putin’s Munich speech: "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."

Since then, four other countries - Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia - have been admitted to NATO. Moreover, in 2008, one year after Putin’s Munich speech a political statement was adopted saying that with time Ukraine and Georgia would be able to join NATO, too. The ensuing events merely confirmed that this policy was fraught with provocations and would imminently downgrade the level of security in Europe. In that same year, 2008, then Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili felt emboldened to launch a military adventure in South Ossetia, which caused heavy casualties and ruined any chances Tbilisi might ever succeed in restoring the country within the borders of the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The US-dominated North Atlantic bloc’s ambitions to have Ukraine as its new member played a role in the 2014 events over Crimea. Putin then said that Russia not only protected the Crimeans from Ukrainian extremists and radical nationalists, and also found it impossible to let "NATO forces set foot on the soil of Crimea and Sevastopol, a land of Russian soldiers’ and sailors’ combat glory."

The risks of Ukraine’s admission to NATO, which might entail a direct military threat to Russia’s territory, are to blame for the current foreign policy tensions. This is precisely what Putin warned about 15 years ago.

Democracy by diktat won’t work

Putin stressed in his Munch speech: "[The observance of human rights] is an important task. We support this. But this does not mean interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, and especially not imposing a regime that determines how these states should live and develop. It is obvious that such interference does not promote the development of democratic states at all. On the contrary, it makes them dependent and, as a consequence, politically and economically unstable."

The past 15 years have seen quite a few examples of such destabilizing attempts to dictate "democratic norms," such as the "Arab Spring" chain of revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen and civil wars in Libya and Syria. Such foreign interference, which Putin described as impermissible, has caused tens of thousands of casualties, the actual loss of sovereignty by some countries and the emergence of the Islamic State (terrorist organization, outlawed in Russia). In the meantime, Russia has helped save Syria from collapse and has been promoting a peace settlement in Libya and other affected countries, but in doing so it does not try to dictate any rules.

On the list of victims from forcible pseudo-democratization, it would be appropriate to mention Ukraine. The government coup in Kiev was staged by self-styled radicals, enjoying heavy diplomatic and political support from the West. The radical change of government in Ukraine has resulted in the total severing of relations between Moscow and Kiev, Ukraine’s loss of Crimea and hostilities in Donbass. Just as Putin warned, genuine democracy never ripens under such conditions.

An arms race will follow

Putin stated in his historic Munich speech: "No one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course, such a policy stimulates an arms race… The potential danger of the destabilization of international relations is connected with obvious stagnation in the disarmament issue."

Putin’s fears regarding another arms race have materialized only to an extent. Russia took a decision not to participate in a long-term marathon to make the final spurt right away. True, Russia has built up the share of modern military hardware in its armed forces up to 71% (in 2010 the rate was as low as 15%), but, as Putin said, Moscow is unable to compete with Washington’s military spending and sees no reason why it should. Instead, the emphasis was placed on research and development that make any multi-billion missile defense systems meaningless. In his message to the Federal Assembly in 2018, Putin for the first time mentioned Russia’s newest hypersonic weapons, including the Sarmat missile systems and the Avangard nuclear-powered cruise missiles and the air-launched Kinzhal ballistic missile. A year later, he described some features of the Tsirkon hypersonic ground and sea-based missile. Russia is not stopping here, though, and as Putin said, keeps working on technologies to counter the hypersonic weapons developed by its adversaries.

"Nobody bothered to listen to us then. Do listen to us now," Putin said in the 2018 message, 11 years after the Munich conference.

Unresolved Iranian nuclear problem

Putin noted in his historic Munich speech: "If the international community does not find a reasonable solution for resolving this conflict of interests, the world will continue to suffer similar, destabilizing crises… We are going to constantly fight against the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

The Iranian nuclear program issue remains suspended. In 2015, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to permit Tehran to conduct peaceful nuclear activity on a number of conditions. However, in 2018, the United States under the Trump administration unilaterally quit the JCPOA.

When Joe Biden took over, Washington expressed the readiness to resume compliance with its obligations under the deal. The relevant consultations began and it is to be hoped that the negotiations on restoring the JCPOA to its original form and Washington’s return to this multilateral agreement will be completed in February 2022.

Long-term contracts and energy security

Putin stated in his Munich speech: "And now about whether our government cabinet is able to operate responsibly in resolving issues linked to energy deliveries and ensuring energy security. Of course, it can! Moreover, all that we have done and are doing is designed to achieve only one goal, namely to transfer our relations with consumers and countries that transport our energy to market-based, transparent principles and long-term contracts."

Over the past 15 years, Russia has diversified gas export to Europe by commissioning the gas pipelines Nord Stream and TurkStream.

Russia remains a reliable provider of gas for customers in Europe, despite the gas transit problems with Ukraine, the general worsening of relations with Kiev and the sanctions imposed on Russia following Crimea’s reunification.

Amid the record-high growth in gas prices on the spot market in Europe in 2021 the countries that have long-term contracts with Russia have been getting this fuel at prices way below the current ones. Putin said that the commissioning of Nord Stream 2 would drive down Europe’s gas prices even lower, but this project’s actual launch has run into politically motivated obstacles.

Unipolar world’s fall

Putin said in his Munich speech: "I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world. The model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilization. There is no reason to doubt that the economic potential of the new centers of global economic growth will inevitably be converted into political influence and will strengthen multipolarity."

In Munich, Putin emphasized the growing economic and political influence of China and India. Even today, these countries insist on the importance of creating a fair multipolar system of international relations.

The Russian president's idea that a unipolar world is impossible has continued to be backed up by economic data in recent years. For example, China's GDP has grown five times (the estimate for 2021 is about $18 trillion), and although this figure is still lower than that of the United States, the gap has been substantially reduced in comparison with 2007. At the same time, according to international experts, China may overtake the United States in the size of its gross domestic product by about 2033.

The political and economic landscape has also significantly changed, in which a special role now belongs to the G20 - an association removed as far as possible from the principle of unipolarity. The first meeting of the G20 leaders was held in 2008. And if at first the format was regarded as optional compared to the G7, now it is the main international political and economic platform for the resolution of many global issues.

The BRICS structure, which includes major world economies such as China and India in addition to Russia, has strengthened over these years. Discussions about the need to reform the IMF, the WTO, the UN Security Council, and other international institutions to reflect the current balance of power on the world stage have intensified.

From friends to foes

Putin said in his Munich speech: "He (U.S. President George W. Bush) says, 'I proceed from the fact that Russia and the USA will never be opponents and enemies again. I agree with him."

This Bush-Putin prediction, unfortunately, now seems overly optimistic. A decade later, in 2017, the US officially named Russia an adversary by passing the famous CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries by Sanctions Act). This document concreted the restrictive measures against Russia, Iran, and North Korea, previously adopted by US authorities, and imposed additional sanctions. And these were not the last sanctions.

Of course, no one is talking about a military conflict, but NATO’s possible further eastward expansion also includes such threats. As Putin pointed out, if Ukraine was accepted into the alliance and Kiev attacked Russia's Crimea, a military confrontation would arise between Russia and NATO, and, therefore, also the United States. To avoid such prospects, Russia came up with initiatives to rectify the legal status of pan-European security guarantees.

Another world

Putin said in his Munich speech: "Russia is a country with a history that spans more than a thousand years and has practically always used the privilege to carry out an independent foreign policy."

Fifteen years have passed. There is no more G8, there are no regular Russia-EU summits, there are no illusions, and no mutual trust. There are only numerous sanctions. But Russia's independent foreign policy has remained constant.

The next Munich Security Conference starts on February 18, but Putin will not be there. Everything was said 15 years ago.