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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

Strong rebuke for the Kremlin from Cheney  
New York Times, 05 May 2006  
MOSCOW, May 4 — Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday delivered the Bush administrations strongest rebuke of Russia to date. He said the Russian government "unfairly and improperly restricted" peoples rights and suggested that it sought to undermine its neighbors and to use the countrys vast resources of oil and gas as "tools of intimidation or blackmail."  
"In many areas of civil society — from religion and the news media, to advocacy groups and political parties — the government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of her people," Mr. Cheney said in a speech to European leaders in Lithuanias capital, Vilnius. "Other actions by the Russian government have been counterproductive, and could begin to affect relations with other countries."  
Mr. Cheneys remarks, which officials in Washington said had been heavily vetted and therefore reflected the administrations current thinking on Russia, appeared to lay down new markers for a relationship that has become strained and could become significantly more so in the months ahead.  
The remarks, in a transcript released by the White House, came in the midst of an international confrontation over Irans nuclear programs, where the United States has tried to enlist Russias help in putting pressure on or punishing Tehran. Mr. Cheneys criticisms would seem to complicate those efforts, but they could also reflect a growing impatience with Russias unwillingness to back stronger measures, including sanctions, against the Iranians.  
Mr. Cheney did not mention Iran in his speech, which was devoted mostly to a triumphant celebration of the expansion of democracy in Europe since the end of the cold war. A senior administration official said the speech emphasized the desire of the White House to continue working with Russia in many areas, including Iran, even as it voiced its concerns. The official requested anonymity because he did not want to be seen as speaking for Mr. Cheney.  
Asked if the remarks risked alienating the Kremlin at a crucial moment in negotiations on Iran at the United Nations Security Council, the official said in a telephone interview, "Theres never a good time."  
Mr. Cheneys remarks also previewed what is shaping up as a tense meeting between President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin at a gathering of the Group of 8, the leading industrialized nations, in St. Petersburg in July. Some in Washington, notably Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, have called on Mr. Bush to boycott the meeting as a signal of displeasure with Mr. Putins anti-democratic course, though Mr. Cheney did not address that matter on Thursday.  
Dmitri S. Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, disputed Mr. Cheneys remarks, calling them unfounded and "completely incomprehensible." At the same time, he discounted Mr. Cheneys message, saying it would cloud neither the coming meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin nor their relationship generally.  
"The relations between the two presidents are much more constructive than these statements," Mr. Peskov said in a telephone interview. "And they are more oriented to the future." Indeed, the two men spoke by telephone just this Monday, and they agreed then on the need to cooperate closely on the Iranian issue, the White House said.  
Stephen Sestanovich, who served as a senior Russia policy official in the Clinton administration, said the speech was likely to infuriate Mr. Putin and his circle of advisers, adding to the strains between the countries.  
"However much you try to sound hopeful notes, the folks around Putin are likely to say this is proof of Washingtons hostility and say, How dare they tell us to be more democratic? " said Mr. Sestanovich, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, based in Washington.  
While Mr. Cheney has always voiced greater skepticism toward Russia than his boss, Mr. Bush, his remarks underscored a deepening rift that has emerged since Mr. Bush famously said in 2001 that he had looked into President Putins eyes and "got a sense of his soul." In many areas now, the United States and Russia have rarely seemed more at odds since the cold war ended.  
The Bush administrations relations with Russia have largely followed the arc of Mr. Putins presidency, from cooperation and personal closeness after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 to growing concerns about Mr. Putins centralization of political and economic control. The downward slide began with the prosecutorial assault on Yukos, once the countrys largest private oil company, and has continued through what many in Washington view as the Kremlins effort to reassert its authority in former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia.  
In Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, the two countries, if not their leaders, seem to square off on opposite sides more often than they cooperate. In Ukraine, Mr. Putin openly sided against the Western-oriented politician Viktor A. Yushchenko during the public protests of electoral fraud in 2004 that ultimately swept him into the presidency.  
Last December, in what was seen as an effort to discredit Mr. Yushchenko before crucial parliamentary elections, Moscow briefly shut off gas supplies to Ukraine when it balked at Russias demand that it pay world prices — about four times what it had been paying.  
On Thursday Mr. Cheney said: "No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation. And no one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor, or interfere with democratic movements."  
The last remark was a clear reference to Georgia and Moldova, both former Soviet republics with unrecognized separatist enclaves abetted by Russia, as well as to Ukraine. Mr. Cheney spoke at an international conference on democracy in the former Soviet republics, held in Vilnius, which drew leaders of nine former Soviet republics or Warsaw Pact satellites along Russias western border, as well as the United States, the European Union and NATO. Russia was not invited, an omission its Foreign Ministry was quick to point out.  
"It would be desirable that a country as big and influential as Russia would appear there not as a subject or object of critique, but as an important, positive factor in international politics," the deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, said during a news conference.  
Mr. Cheney has routinely taken a leading role in voicing administration policy, most notably in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks and regarding the war in Iraq, but usually in domestic venues. His foreign visits have typically involved high-level discussions, and it is unusual for him to deliver a major public address overseas.  
The bulk of the vice presidents speech was a celebration of the democratic progress these countries have made since the Soviet sway over Europe began to collapse in 1989. And Mr. Cheney sounded very much like a triumphant cold warrior. He evoked Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and the dissident leaders of the Soviet bloc who threw off "the stagnation of imperial dictatorship."  
Mr. Cheney did not mention Mr. Putin by name. And he said that Russia was not "fated to be an enemy" and that it "can be a strategic partner and a trusted friend." But he urged that Russia follow the course embraced by its former subjects in the Soviet bloc. He added that the meeting in St. Petersburg would be an opportunity for Mr. Bush and the other Group of 8 leaders to make that case.  
"Russia has a choice to make," he said.  
Mr. Cheney also reiterated the administrations strong condemnation of Belarus, where President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko was elected to a third term in a vote denounced as a fraud. He said that he had planned to meet Mr. Lukashenkos leading opponent, Aleksandr Milinkevich, in Vilnius, but that Mr. Milinkevichs arrest last week prevented it. He called for his release.  
"There is no place in a Europe whole and free for a regime of this kind," he said, calling Mr. Lukashenkos government "the last dictatorship in Europe."  
Russia, by contrast, has praised Mr. Lukashenkos victory, most recently when Mr. Putin met the Belarussian leader last week.  
Mr. Cheneys speech was barely mentioned in Russias state-owned or controlled media, but nevertheless set off a torrent of criticism here.  
"The United States has to deal with an absolutely different Russia today — a Russia that has restored its real sovereignty in many areas," Andrei A. Kokoshin, a member of the lower house of Parliament, told the Interfax news agency.  
His remarks reflected an increasingly confident view of Russias status that is widely held here. It is a view that has required the Bush administration to calibrate its criticism over democratic backsliding with the realization that Russias growing economic might, largely fueled by oil and gas, make it an indispensable player.  
But Mr. Sestanovich said the speech marked a turning point of sorts, saying it "definitely reflects a scaling back of expectations of the relationship with Moscow. For the vice president to say Russia can be a strategic partner is already to imply that it isnt."  
Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington for this article.  
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company  

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