First Published: 2007-02-11

Putin blasts US global dominance

Russian President heads to Saudi Arabia after accusing US of making world more dangerous place.


Middle East Online

By Lydia Georgi - RIYADH

A scathing attack on US foreign policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin kicks off a Middle East tour on Sunday seeking to enhance ties with regional US allies after launching a scathing attack on Washington's "ruinous" foreign policy.

On the first leg of the trip in Saudi Arabia, the leaders of the world's two largest oil producers will get together to discuss regional problems and bilateral links, including possible arms sales.

Putin will then head to Qatar and Jordan on the three-day tour aimed at bolstering energy and military links in a region where US influence has been uncontested since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The visits will be the first by a Russian president to the three Arab states and follow Putin's landmark Middle East visit in 2005, when he travelled to Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian territories.

On the eve of his tour, Putin attacked the United States as a reckless "unipolar" power, accusing Washington of having made the world more dangerous by pursuing policies that have led to war, ruin and insecurity.

"The United States has overstepped its borders in all spheres - economic, political and humanitarian and has imposed itself on other states," he said at a conference on security policy in Munich.

The United States had gone "from one conflict to another without achieving a fully-fledged solution to any of them," he said, describing US dominance as "ruinous".

The speech has added to tensions between the Kremlin and Washington, which have heightened after a period of relative rapprochement in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Addressing the same conference on Sunday, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates dismissed Putin's broadside, declaring: "One Cold War was quite enough."

The Russian leader's discussions with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah will cover issues on which Moscow is at odds with the United States, including the situation in war-torn Iraq and the standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Decades of Saudi suspicion about Russian intentions in the Middle East have given way to warming relations, and Putin has been trying to restore Moscow's international clout, boosted by his country's oil wealth.

A diplomatic source said the visit is expected to lead to a "verbal understanding" on the sale of about 150 Russian T-90 battle tanks to Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally bought Western weapons but is seeking to diversify its defence systems.

Discussions on the proposed deal will continue after the visit between military experts from the two countries, which have been in talks about the supply of the battle tanks for several months, the source said.

Tests were carried out on the T-90 in Saudi Arabia last year to determine the tank's suitability for harsh desert conditions, and Russia has also offered Mi-17 helicopters.

Putin, whose delegation will include officials from the state arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport, is scheduled to hold a meeting on Monday with Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who is also defence minister, officials said.

In addition to a counter-terrorism agreement, cooperation accords in the economic, investment, cultural and information fields are expected to be signed, including an agreement to prevent double taxation.

Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko will also accompany Putin. Moscow and Riyadh signed a cooperation agreement aimed at stabilizing oil prices when King Abdullah, then crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, paid a landmark visit to Russia in September 2003.

In March 2004, Saudi Arabia inked a contract with Russian energy giant Lukoil for exploration and production of non-associated gas in its southern desert region of Rub al-Khali, or Empty Quarter.

Putin will spend Sunday and early Monday in Saudi Arabia before travelling to neighbouring Qatar, which holds the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world after Russia and Iran.

On Tuesday, he goes to Amman where he is due to hold talks with King Abdullah II and also Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.


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