Putin's statement that U.S. plans to put a Europe missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic can perhaps be best interpreted as a rhetorical overstatement before Putin negotiates new economic and political agreements with the West, particularly with Europe.
Russia's oil and natural gas resources, foreign currency reserves, commercial development and +5% annual GDP growth rate have enhanced the nation's negotiating stance, on both economic and geostrategic issues. Sensing his stronger hand, Putin has used the increased leverage to propose, among other measures, European economic/commercial agreements that would be more favorable to Russia, while also making clear that international political agreements among the U.S., Europe and Russia on such issues as the Iraq War, Iran nuclear technology -- and a potential European missile shield -- would also reflect Russia's concerns.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he was unsure what to make of Putin's remarks Friday. Gates told Agence France Presse that Putin had reacted positively to U.S. proposals at a meeting in Moscow earlier this month.
Political/Economic Analysis: In this case, President Putin overspoke. Perhaps too emboldened by Russia's increased economic power, Putin has displayed a tendency to over-rhetoricize. Then, after being briefed by aides and/or recognizing that his comments were more serious than the point he intended to make, he usually clarifies his statement or modifies earlier points. True, Russia and the U.S. are at odds over many issues (Iran's nuclear technology, NATO, the pace and scope of Russia / Europe economic integration), but relations between the two powers are decidedly better than during the Cold War. Hence, view Putin's remarks as an overstated critique of a U.S. policy ahead of future Russia / U.S. / Europe talks.