Da The Guardian del 11/05/2006
Originale su http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1772258,00.html

Putin lashes out at 'wolf-like' America

· Response to Cheney attack feeds war of words
· US 'eats and listens to no one', warns president

di Ewen MacAskill, Nick Paton Walsh

Moscow, Washington - Relations between the US and Russia sank to the lowest point in a decade yesterday when Vladimir Putin harshly rebuked Washington for its criticism last week and compared the US to a hungry wolf that "eats and listens to no one".

Mr Putin, stung by an attack from Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, used his annual state of the nation address to denounce US expansionism and military spending. He also questioned Washington's record on democratic rights. Although he refrained from mentioning the US by name, it was clear that the "wolf" in question referred to Washington.

The deterioration in relations is risky for the US at a time when it is trying to persuade Russia to support a United Nations resolution against Iran over Tehran's nuclear programme.

The acrimony will also encourage senior US Republicans such as John McCain to renew calls for Mr Bush to boycott this year's meeting of the Group of Eight, the world's wealthiest countries, which is scheduled to be held in Russia for the first time.

The war of words is a long way from the optimism with which George Bush said, after his first face-to-face meeting with Mr Putin in 2001, that he had looked into the Russian president's soul and liked what he saw.

Mr Cheney, reflecting Washington's growing disenchantment, told a conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, last week that Russia was sending "mixed signals" over democracy, as well as using its energy resources to "intimidate and blackmail" neighbours.

Mr Putin, in his speech, noted that the American military budget was 25 times the size of Russia's and said the US had turned its home into a castle.

"Good for them," the Russian president said, looking up from his notes, directly at his audience, "but this means we must make our own home strong and reliable. Because we see what is happening in the world. We see it."

He added, in what appeared to be a reference to the US-led invasion of Iraq and its approach to Iran: "As they say, 'comrade wolf knows whom to eat. He eats without listening and he is clearly not going to listen to anyone'." He accused the US of hypocrisy over its criticism of Russia's patchy human rights record.

"Where is all this pathos about protecting human rights and democracy when it comes to the need to pursue their own interests?"

In another veiled reference to Washington's approach to Iraq and Iran, he said: "Methods of force rarely give the desired result and often their consequences are even more terrible than the original threat." He added that Russia was "unambiguously" against the spread of nuclear weapons.

In another apparent jibe aimed at the US, he said countries should not use Russia's negotiations over membership of the World Trade Organisation to make unrelated demands.

"The negotiations for letting Russia into the WTO should not become a bargaining chip for questions that have nothing in common with the activities of this organisation," Mr Putin said.

US senators visiting Moscow last month said Congress would consider its application in the light of Russia's behaviour on human rights and Iran.

Mr Putin said Russia had to resist foreign pressure by bolstering its army, which is currently a ragtag group of a million conscripts galvanised by special forces and nuclear weapons. "We must always be ready to counter any attempts to pressure Russia in order to strengthen positions at our expense," he said. "The stronger our military is, the less temptation there will be to exert such pressure on us."

Much of his hour-long address was dedicated to Russia's demographic plight, which some forecasts have suggested could see the population fall from 142 million to 100 million by 2050. "The number of our citizens shrinks by an average of 700,000 people a year," he said, promising to double state payouts for a first child to £30 a month, with £60 for a second one. He said a healthy population, free from the vices of smoking and drinking, was vital for a healthy army to protect the state.

Boris Makarenko, deputy head of the Centre for Political Technologies, said the speech marked the beginning of a new approach in which Russia, bolstered by high oil and gas prices, had stopped discussing democracy and other issues with the west and had said instead: "We are strong, we have wealth and we'll use it in a way we consider necessary."

Mr Makarenko said the bitter exchange between Washington and Moscow during the past week was designed to get their mutual criticisms out of the way prior to Russia chairing the G8 summit in St Petersburg in July.

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