Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- Vladimir Putin -- Russia's president, although the more accurate title would be godfather -- made headlines last week with a speech in Munich that set a new standard in anti-Americanism. He not only charged the U.S. with the ``hyper-use of force,'' ``disdain for the basic principles of international law'' and having ``overstepped its national borders in ... the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations.'' He even blamed the spread of weapons of mass destruction, which the U.S. has been combating with few allies and against constant Russian resistance, on American ``dominance'' that ``inevitably encourages'' other countries to defensively acquire them.

There is something amusing about criticism of the use of force by the man who turned Chechnya into a smoldering ruin; about the invocation of international law by the man who will not allow Scotland Yard to interrogate the polonium-soaked thugs it suspects of murdering Alexander Litvinenko, yet another Putin opponent to meet an untimely and unprosecuted death; about the bullying of other countries decried by a man who cuts off energy supplies to Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus in brazen acts of political and economic extortion.

Less amusing is the greater meaning of Putin's Munich speech. It marks Russia's coming out. Flush with oil and gas revenues, the consolidation of dictatorial authority at home and the capitulation of both domestic and Western companies to his seizure of their assets, Putin issued his boldest declaration yet that post-Soviet Russia is preparing to reassert itself on the world stage.

Perhaps the most important line in his speech was the least noted because it seemed so innocuous. ``I very often hear appeals by our partners, including our European partners, to the effect that Russia should play an increasingly active role in world affairs,'' he said. ``It is hardly necessary to incite us to do so.''

Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko once boasted that no conflict anywhere on the globe could be settled without taking into account the attitude and interests of the Soviet Union. Gromyko's description of Soviet influence constitutes the best definition ever formulated of the term superpower.

And we know how Putin, who has called the demise of the Soviet Union the greatest political catastrophe of the 20th century, yearns for those superpower days. At Munich, he could not even disguise his Cold War nostalgia, asserting that ``global security'' in those days was ensured by the ``strategic potential of two superpowers.''

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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