Cheney's Sharp Criticism Miffs Russia
May 04 5:24 PM US/Eastern
By DAVID ESPO
AP Special Correspondent
Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday accused Russia
of cracking down on religious and political rights and
using its energy reserves as "tools of intimidation or
blackmail." It was a hard slap at Vladimir Putin as
the United States seeks Russia's cooperation in
Cheney's criticism _ some of the administration's
toughest language about Russia _ came just two months
before President Bush joins Putin in St. Petersburg
for a summit of major industrial powers. Cheney warned
that Russia's backsliding could harm Moscow's
relations with the United States and Europe.
"Russia has a choice to make. And there is no question
that a return to democratic reform in Russia will
generate future success for its people and greater
respect among fellow nations," the vice president said
in remarks to Eastern European leaders who govern in
Moscow's enormous shadow.
Russian officials reacted angrily.
"Cheney's speech looks like a provocation and
interference in Russia's internal affairs in terms of
its content, form and place," former Soviet President
Mikhail Gorbachev was quoted as saying by the Interfax
news agency. Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin
expressed annoyance that Russia had not been invited
to the conference of former Soviet republics and
A Russian lawmaker, ultranationalist Vladimir
Zhirinovsky, dismissed Cheney's comments as
"absolutely false accusations." He said Cheney had
expressed the opinion "of only part of the U.S.
political elite" but not that of Bush.
The White House said Cheney's criticism was a
reiteration of concerns expressed by Bush and
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Early this year the administration angered Russia with
criticism that the Kremlin had used its energy
resources as a political weapon by sharply raising
natural gas prices to Western-leaning Ukraine amid a
sharp dispute that led to a halt of gas exports to
other European nations. An agreement eventually ended
the impasse, but it raised questions of Russia's
dependability as a supplier.
Washington has since tried to avoid provoking Russia,
during sensitive negotiations over the international
response to Iran's disputed nuclear program. Russia
stands as the main obstacle to tough penalties or
other measures to deter Iran from pursuing nuclear
technology the West says is part of a drive to build a
Russia is a permanent, veto-holding member of the U.N.
Security Council and has said it is opposed to tough
punishment for Iran, a major trade and investment
partner. Russia recently rebuffed U.S. requests to end
or scale back nuclear cooperation and arms deals with
Rice has said it is too soon to tell whether Russia
will allow the Security Council to act against Iran.
Cheney's address was the centerpiece of his six-day
trip to Lithuania, Kazakhstan and Croatia. He held
individuals meetings Thursday with the leaders of
Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Georgia.
In his speech, Cheney said opponents of reform in
Russia "are seeking to reverse the gains of the last
decade" after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet empire.
"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," Cheney said.
"Other actions by the Russian government have been
counterproductive and could begin to affect relations
with other countries," he said.
Cheney said "no legitimate interest is served when oil
and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail ...
and no one can justify actions that undermine the
territorial integrity of a neighbor or interfere with
U.S. officials said Cheney's remark concerning
territorial integrity was meant to apply to Georgia
and Moldova, both former parts of the Soviet Union
where the administration says Russia is playing an
unhelpful role in solving separatist conflicts.
Russia has had military bases in Georgia as well as
troops in Moldova. The United States says Russia has
completed agreements for the withdrawal of almost all
its forces from Georgia, but talks with Moldova have
not been as satisfactory.
Moldova fought a war more than a decade ago with
Trans-Dniester, a Russian-speaking breakaway enclave.
Much of the vice president's speech was a compliment
to Eastern European countries for the strides they
have made toward democracy, a summons to maintain a
"steady, hopeful advancement over time" and a pledge
that the United States would help.
Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, who hosted the
conference, voiced concern that the freedoms gained
since the end of the Cold War might not prove to be as
durable as hoped. "Even if the choice of democracy is
open to all states and peoples, the threat of new Iron
Curtains in minds and on the ground has not
disappeared," he said from the same podium where
Cheney later delivered his own remarks.