Comparisons Are Odious

Russian President Vladimir Putin sees a comparison between the Soviet Union’s installation of missiles in Cuba in the 1960’s and the planned installation of a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic:

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, on Friday compared US plans to build a missile defence shield near Russia’s borders to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Mr Putin quickly qualified his remarks, made after a summit with European Union leaders in Portugal, by saying that US-Russian relations had moved on since the Cold War and that he and George W. Bush, the US president, had a good personal relationship.

But Mr Putin’s deliberate evocation of one of history’s most dangerous episodes did little to soothe the nerves of his European hosts who, like their US allies, are struggling to stabilise a relationship with Russia that has more points of friction than at any time since the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991.

Mr Putin has never disguised his hostility to the US proposal to station a missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland, a plan that he says threatens Russia but which the US says is intended to counter a possible missile threat posed by Iran.

“Analogous actions by the Soviet Union, when it deployed missiles in Cuba, led to the Caribbean crisis. For us today, from a technological viewpoint, the situation is very similar. Such a threat is being set up on our borders,” Mr Putin told a news conference after Friday’s summit.

Outside of the facts that

  1. The defense shield has no real offensive use while the missiles installed in Cuba had little defensive use—specifically, secret missiles aren’t deterrents.
  2. The defense shield isn’t particularly useful against an imagined Russian attack. It would take one heckuva defense shield to protect against the amount of force that Russia could apply in the case of a Russian attack (which I consider incredibly unlikely as, I suspect, does Washington).
  3. The USSR was openly hostile to the U. S. at the time.
  4. The USSR had installed puppet governments in most of its immediate neighbors. If Canada’s and Mexico’s governments are U. S. puppets, they’re lousy ones.
  5. The USSR had active subversive intelligence organizations within the United States at the time (and in many other countries throughout the world).
  6. The Cuban tyrant was openly hostile to the U. S. (and still is).

he may have something. Mr. Putin himself was apparently aware of how feeble the comparison was:

However, he added: “Happily, we don’t see this as a new Caribbean crisis – nothing of the kind . . . With President Bush, this is a relationship of trust. I think I have the right to call him a personal friend, as he calls me.”

The real comparison is that the USSR was flexing its muscles just as Russia is trying to re-assert some sort of influence now. I don’t think that evoking the bad old days is productive but I suspect that Mr. Putin’s comments were meant for domestic consumption: Soviet nostalgia is one of the few things that Russian nationalism has going for it right now.

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