Putin Speech Raises Alarms in EU

European politicians say the Russian leader's harsh criticism of U.S. power, NATO expansion, and Kosovo independence forecasts rough relations with Moscow

Russian leader Vladimir Putin's tough speech in Germany this weekend is a wake-up call to the harsh realities in EU-Russia relations, early reactions from European politicians say.

The Russian chief used the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy to attack the US as a reckless "unipolar" power, criticise NATO expansion and warn against US plans to install anti-missile bases in Poland and the Czech republic.

"I don't want to accuse anyone of being aggressive," Mr Putin said on the missile scheme, but threatened he is considering an unspecified "asymmetric" response.

He described NATO expansion as "a serious factor provoking reduction of mutual trust."

The Russian leader also took an anti-US and EU line on Kosovo, making clear Russia's opposition to any "imposed" form of Kosovo independence on the grounds it could inflame separatist tension around the world.

The bullish speech was seen by some analysts as a throwback to the Cold War era but US defence secretary Robert Gates played down the comparison, with US officials planning to go to Moscow to help clarify some of the Russian remarks.

Meanwhile, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt told Reuters: "we should take [Putin] at his word. This was the real Russia of now and possibly in four or five years time it could go further in this direction."

"We have to have a dialogue with Russia but we must be hard-nosed and realistic. We must stand up for our values," he added, in the context of Europe's faltering attempt to negotiate a new energy and security treaty with Russia.

Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg thanked the Russian leader ironically, saying that he had vindicated NATO's decision to take in members from the former Soviet east over the past decade.

Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves also urged the EU to think twice about future relations with "a country that considers democracy on its borders as a threat, or despotism inside its borders as a source of stability."

"I do not see how we can negotiate a new partnership pact on this basis," German green MEP Angelika Beer said. "We need Russia for energy and Kosovo. He knows that – but perhaps he is going over the top."

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer voiced disapproval as well: "who should be worried that democracy and the rule of law is coming closer to their border?...I can't hide my disappointment. I will not hide my disappointment."

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