Correction to This Article
A May 5 article on the Bush administration's Russia policy misstated the sponsor of a speech by former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.). He spoke at a forum at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, not the Hoover Institution.

U.S. Warns Russia to Act More Like A Democracy

Vice President Cheney talks with Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, at a democracy conference in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Vice President Cheney talks with Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, at a democracy conference in Vilnius, Lithuania. (By Mindaugas Kulbis -- Associated Press)
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 5, 2006

The Bush administration has warned Russia that the upcoming summit of the Group of Eight nations in St. Petersburg could be a debacle unless the Kremlin takes specific actions in the coming weeks to demonstrate a commitment to democracy, according to U.S. officials.

The administration has privately identified to Moscow concrete steps it should take before the July meeting, such as registering civil society groups that have been harassed, as a way of deflecting criticism that Russia has no business hosting a summit of democratic nations. And administration officials have sharpened their rhetoric about Russia's backslide toward autocracy.

At a European democracy conference in Lithuania yesterday, Vice President Cheney accused Russia of "unfairly and improperly" restricting the rights of its people and using oil and gas as "tools of intimidation or blackmail" against neighboring countries.

"Russia has a choice to make," Cheney said. "And there is no question that a return to democratic reform in Russia will generate further success for its people and greater respect among fellow nations."

Administration officials are increasingly concerned about President Bush's attending a meeting of the world's major democracies in a country that by most definitions is not. Bush has made expansion of freedom and democracy the central tenet of his foreign policy but has been reluctant to alienate his avowed friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as the Kremlin has rigged or canceled elections, taken over independent television, and prosecuted political enemies.

Some critics, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have called on Bush to boycott the G-8 summit in protest of Putin's suppression of dissent, but the president has rejected such a move as counterproductive. While Cheney said yesterday that the United States supports democracy "through direct aid," Bush has cut funding for democracy groups in the former Soviet Union in half.

"We have to show some leadership," former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) said in a speech at the Hoover Institution last week. Edwards, who helped lead a Council on Foreign Relations panel on Russia, said Bush should tell Putin that "if you want to be seen as a legitimate power in the world, a force for good, and you want to look outside and not just inward, then democratic reforms matter."

Bush, though, wants Moscow's help on an array of issues, including preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Putin has joined Bush in pressuring Tehran but resists U.N. sanctions. Bush called Putin on Monday to lobby him on Iran, but during the call Putin changed the subject and pressed Bush to finish negotiations allowing Russia into the World Trade Organization. Bush vowed to do so "soon." Aides said that there was no quid pro quo but that they hope to conclude WTO talks before the summit.

The summit, set for July 15-17, has forced administration officials to rethink their approach to Russia for fear that the meeting will be consumed with questions about why the leaders of the world's leading democracies would seemingly ignore Putin's crackdown on internal opposition. Cheney has shown particular interest in the matter, summoning Russia scholars to brief him and meeting secretly with a leading Russian democrat, according to people informed about the sessions.

Administration officials concluded it is not practical to simply urge Russia to be more democratic, so they developed a list of half a dozen things Moscow can do in the next two months to signal a new direction.

Among other things, the administration is recommending that Russia register nongovernmental organizations that have been pressured, such as the New Eurasia Foundation; guarantee energy supplies to neighbors; and ensure that independent monitors are permitted to observe elections down to the local level, according to officials who were not authorized to speak on the record.

"We're not ordering them, we're not telling them," said one official. "We want a good meeting." If the Russians do too, they will take some of these actions, the officials said.

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