The slap in the face came just a week after a top-level meeting at the White House in Washington. And he sat. “Unbridled use of hyper-violence”, “world on the brink of conflict”, “limits exceeded in almost every area” were the drastic words Vladimir Putin chose when he became the first Russian president to speak at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. It quickly became clear who he meant: the USA, the Europeans, in other words the “West”.

The diplomats, government representatives, researchers and experts present were perplexed by this speech, which seemed like a declaration of war, and ultimately was. of a new cold war. Putin’s appearance marked a turning point in Russia’s relationship with NATO, the USA and the EU. But why? And why at this point. The then stern Russia expert Katja Gloger wrote after the speech from the Bavarian capital: “Did someone finally let their feelings run free – pure Putin, so to speak, an ex-KGB colonel in an anti-American original tone? Wanted there someone finally put their cards on the table and make it clear who the enemy is, the real threat to world peace? The USA?”

In 2007 Iraq was still at war, illegally started by the United States, Britain and the “Coalition of the Willing”. One of the biggest beneficiaries was Russia, which was suddenly awash in petrodollars because of the high oil price. Moscow sold Iran a missile defense system, which the US saw as a potential threat. Shortly before the¬†security conference¬†at that time, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, like Putin a former secret service man, had therefore named Russia in the same breath as the “rogue states” Iran and North Korea.

The arrival of the Russian President and his 200-strong delegation 16 years ago caused a stir. Putin pulled up in front of the “Bayerischer Hof” in a long Mercedes limousine. “In the ‘Kaisersaal’ he got straight to the point, no sentences that ended in polite generalities,” said stern reporter Bettina Sengling at the time. “‘This conference gives me the opportunity to tell you what I really think about security in the world,'” he began his speech. That’s the good thing about a conference: you don’t have to talk in pleasant but empty phrases. He hopes that the chairman of the conference, Horst Teltschik, will not immediately turn on the red light and turn off the microphone.'”

The Kremlin chief evidently knew the impact his words would have. Even if his diplomats and staff downplayed them afterwards. Then-Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said at a subsequent press conference: “I think the Russian President’s speech was very to the point. That’s not Cold War thinking.” Then he recalled the huge differences in defense budgets and that there are now more violent conflicts than during the Cold War and that the missile defense system planned in Poland and the Czech Republic at the time could only hit Russia for technical reasons.

In the “Bayerischer Hof” in 2007, Putin also began to outline the eastward expansion of NATO as a threat to Russia. Less than two years earlier, the foreign minister, whose name was already Sergei Lavrov, had said that Ukraine and Georgia (theoretically) would join NATO and that it was “their thing”. However, the head of the Kremlin gave an explanation as to why he was increasingly skeptical about the military alliance: “The threat today comes from terrorists. Nevertheless, NATO is pushing military infrastructure to the Russian border. During the Cold War, the system was fragile, a bit terrible, but more reliable than the world today!” Putin said at the time.

Even in retrospect, the President’s words sound both like an outburst of anger about the lost role as a world power and like a programmatic keynote speech. “Russia has a history of more than a thousand years,” Putin said defiantly at one point. stern reporter Gloger wrote afterwards: “And no one should dance on the nose of this Russia and its rulers. No one should demand the rule of law or criticize the restriction of civil rights and even demand clarification when courageous journalists like Anna Politkovskaya are murdered. Should be no longer campaign for democracy in the former Soviet republics, in Georgia, in Ukraine, in Belarus.”

Then as now, the close Kremlin partner Alexander Lukashenko ruled in Belarus. In Georgia, the people rebelled. In 2008, Russia attacked the Caucasus republic and attacked it with planes and tanks for five days. And in Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko was the head of state and vehemently campaigned for his country to join NATO. So there was only one case of pro-Moscow calm in the states that Russia regards as its “sphere of influence.”

Vladimir Putin commented on his own speech that “this is just a conference”. The former editor of “Zeit”, Josef Joffe, said: “Perhaps later historians will remember the 43rd Security Conference as the beginning of the new Cold War”. 16 years later it is clear: It did not stop at a new, cold war.