Monday, June 04, 2007

Putin making the Moron scramble

Bush Goes to Europe in Wake of Putin’s Threat

President Bush departed for Europe where he will attend the summit of leading industrialized nations in Germany.

BERLIN, June 4 — President Bush flew to Europe today for talks with world leaders later this week, including President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in the wake of a threat by Mr. Putin to point Russian missiles at Europe if the United States builds its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

In an interview with journalists from the other Group of 8 big industrialized countries that was released on the Kremlin Web site, Mr. Putin set an uncompromising tone before the start of the group’s summit meeting in Germany on Wednesday.

His comments set a challenge for Mr. Bush, who flew to Prague in the Czech Republic today before the meeting in Germany.

Mr. Putin said Russia would not stand back and allow Washington to expand its nuclear potential in Europe, even though the new interceptors that the United States intends to deploy in Poland would not carry nuclear warheads.

“Europe is being filled with new weapons,” Mr. Putin said, according to the transcript. “We ask ourselves what is going on.” He said the United States’ planned new installations would be an “inseparable part of the U.S. nuclear potential,” and said the Iranian missiles that America’s bases are intended to protect against “do not exist.”

"If the American nuclear potential grows in European territory, we have to give ourselves new targets in Europe," Mr. Putin was quoted as saying by Corriere della Sera, an Italian newspaper that took part in the interview.

"It is up to our military to define these targets, in addition to defining the choice between ballistic and cruise missiles. But this is just a technical aspect."

Asked whether the American plan to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe would force Moscow to direct its own missiles against cities or American military targets in Europe, Mr. Putin replied, "Naturally, yes," according to the newspaper.

Der Spiegel, the German weekly newsmagazine, which also took part in the interview, reported that Mr. Putin had warned about the greater possibility of a nuclear conflict.

There was little immediate international reaction to Mr. Putin’s criticisms. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who will host the Group of 8 meeting, wants to lower tensions ahead of the discussions, German diplomats and advisers said.

But NATO criticized Mr. Putin’s comments. "These kind of comments are unhelpful and unwelcome," James Appathurai, a spokesman for NATO, said.

The differences over America’s plans for the missile shield are likely to dominate the talks in Europe. Ms. Merkel and Group of 8 leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United States had been hoping that their meeting could reach a consensus over a separate issue, the future status of Kosovo, one of the last unresolved conflicts of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The United Nations has drawn up a plan that would pave the way for Kosovo to become independent from Serbia, ending the province’s status as a United Nations international protectorate. This arrangement has been in place since 1999. That independence would be supervised by the European Union.

But Russia, which has veto power as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, made it clear last week in Potsdam, Germany, at a meeting of Group of 8 foreign ministers that it did not accept the plan and instead wanted a resumption of talks between Serbia and Kosovo. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, used that meeting to sharply criticize the United States and the missile defense plan.

European diplomats said Mr. Putin’s blunt remarks were intended not only to sow divisions in Europe over the American missile defense plans but also to try to extract concessions over Kosovo.

In Germany, Ms. Merkel’s partners in the coalition government, the Social Democrats, oppose the American plan and have even suggested that Germany pursue a policy of "equal distance" between Russia and the United States. But Ms. Merkel, the conservative leader of the Christian Democrats, has challenged Mr. Putin on several issues, including his views about the missile defense system.

Ms. Merkel has personally told Mr. Putin that America’s plans are in no way directed against Russia.

American officials have also repeatedly told Mr. Putin that Russia would be informed of every step along the way and could even visit the sites in Poland, where the interceptors would be based, and in the Czech Republic, where the United States plans to deploy the radar system. Russia, however, has not taken up the offer of visiting the sites.

Mr. Putin is due to visit the United States for talks with Mr. Bush on July 1 and 2.

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