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Cheney's Sharp Criticism Miffs Russia

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/05/04/D8HD72DOQ.html Cheney s Sharp Criticism Miffs Russia May 04 5:24 PM US/Eastern By DAVID ESPO AP Special Correspondent
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4 4:38 PM
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      http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/05/04/D8HD72DOQ.html

      Cheney's Sharp Criticism Miffs Russia
      May 04 5:24 PM US/Eastern

      By DAVID ESPO
      AP Special Correspondent

      VILNIUS, Lithuania

      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
      punishing Iran.

      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
      allies.

      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
      bomb.

      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
      Tehran.

      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
      democratic movements."

      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.
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