Vladimir Putin stirred ghosts of the cold war yesterday by comparing the Pentagon's plan to site elements of its missile shield in Europe to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 when the US and the Soviet Union went to the brink of nuclear war.
Speaking at an EU summit near Lisbon, the Russian president said that his country was confronted with a similar threat to the one faced 45 years ago by the United States, when Nikita Khrushchev stationed Russian missiles on Cuba, 90 miles from the US coast, until forced to remove them by John F Kennedy.
The Bush administration was copying Mr Khrushchev and his politburo, said Mr Putin, making an argument to EU countries to try to persuade them to oppose the US plan to deploy parts of its proposed missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. "Analogous actions by the Soviet Union when it deployed rockets on Cuba provoked the Cuban missile crisis," he said after the EU-Russia summit.
"For us, technologically, the situation is very similar. Such threats to our country are being created on our borders ... I would remind you how relations were developing in an analogous situation in the middle of the 1960s."
The Kremlin's challenge to the US president in 1962 triggered the worst confrontation of the cold war, and brought the world its closest to nuclear war.
The US insists its plan to install a radar station near Prague and silos with 10 interceptor rockets in north Poland is not directed against Russia. This week, defence secretary Robert Gates sought to defuse Russia's opposition by offering it greater participation and to delay the shield's operability until Iran develops the ballistic missiles which it is supposed to defend Europe against.
Mr Putin has hardened his anti-western rhetoric in the last six months of his eight years as president, which ends in March ahead of parliamentary elections in December in which he is likely to seek to become prime minister instead.
In February he stunned western leaders by accusing the Bush administration of trying to take over the world. He has threatened to point missiles at western Europe, walk away from a 1980s treaty eliminating missiles, and scrap a treaty limiting conventional forces. Martha Brill Olcott, of the Carnegie endowment in Washington, said: "Mr Putin is clearly ratcheting up the rhetoric. He is in the middle of an election cycle. That's the main thing.
"But he's very angry. He feels he's being lied to by the Bush administration. He feels it's the Bush administration that's escalated, creating an armed environment in Europe."?
Mr Putin also opposes the US demonisation of Iran. On arrival in Portugal on Thursday, he denounced the US sanctions announced by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, and likened the US administration to "a madman running around with a razor blade".
The Czech parliament voted yesterday against a referendum on the radar station - a vote it risks losing to sceptical public opinion. The Polish government, meanwhile, is likely to expand its demands on Washington for agreeing to the missiles against the Russian opposition.
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