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Putin Is Said to Compare U.S. Policies to Third Reich

NY Times | May 10, 2007 
ANDREW E. KRAMER

President Vladimir V. Putin seemed to obliquely compare the foreign policy of the United States to the Third Reich in a speech on Wednesday commemorating the 62nd anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The comments were the latest in a series of sharply worded Russian criticisms of the foreign policy of the United States — on Iraq, missile defense, NATO expansion and, more broadly, United States unilateralism in foreign affairs.

Many Russians say the sharper edge reflects a frustration that Russia's views, in particular opposition to NATO expansion, have been ignored in the West. Outside of Russia, however, many detected in the new tone a return to cold-war-style antagonism, emboldened by petroleum wealth.

Mr. Putin's analogy was a small part of a larger speech, otherwise unambiguously congratulating Russian veterans of World War II, known here as the Great Patriotic War. Mr. Putin spoke from a podium in front of Lenin's mausoleum on Red Square before troops mustered for a military parade.

Mr. Putin called Victory Day a holiday of “huge moral importance and unifying power” for Russia, and went on to enumerate the lessons of that conflict for the world today.

“We do not have the right to forget the causes of any war, which must be sought in the mistakes and errors of peacetime,” Mr. Putin said.

“Moreover, in our time, these threats are not diminishing,” he said. “They are only transforming, changing their appearance. In these new threats, as during the time of the Third Reich, are the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world.”

The Kremlin press service declined to clarify the statement, saying Mr. Putin's spokesman was unavailable because of the holiday.

Sergei A. Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies, who works closely with the Kremlin, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Putin was referring to the United States and NATO. Mr. Markov said the comments should be interpreted in the context of a wider, philosophical discussion of the lessons of World War II. The speech also praised the role of the allies of the Soviet Union in defeating Germany.

“He intended to talk about the United States, but not only,” Mr. Markov said in reference to the sentence mentioning the Third Reich. “The speech said that the Second World War teaches lessons that can be applied in today's world.”

The United States, Mr. Putin has maintained, is seeking to establish a unipolar world to replace the bipolar balance of power of the cold war era.

In a speech in Munich on Feb. 10, he characterized the United States as “One single center of power: One single center of force. One single center of decision making. This is the world of one master, one sovereign.”

The victory in World War II, achieved at the cost of roughly 27 million Soviet citizens, still echoes loudly in the politics of the former Soviet Union, particularly in Russia's relations with the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Putin criticized Estonia, also indirectly, for recently relocating a monument to the Red Army in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, along with the remains of unknown soldiers buried there. Mr. Putin warned that such changes to war memorials was “sowing discord and new distrust between states and people.” The remarks were a nod to the protests in Russia and Estonia after the relocation of the Bronze Soldier memorial from the city center to a military cemetery.

In his Victory Day speech last May, Mr. Putin brushed on similar themes of the lessons of the war. Then, he spoke of the need to stem “racial enmity, extremism and xenophobia” in a possible reference to rising ethnic tensions inside Russia.

Victory Day has evolved into the principal political holiday in Russia, replacing the Soviet-era Nov. 7 celebration, Day of the Great October Socialist Revolution. That holiday was canceled under Mr. Putin and replaced with the Day of Accord, observing a 1612 uprising against Poland, celebrated on Nov. 4.

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