Rice Says Russia Has Taken a 'Dark Turn'

In a scathing criticism of Moscow, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Russia Thursday that Russia's policies have put it on a path to isolation and irrelevance. Video by AP
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 19, 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped up U.S. criticism of Russia yesterday, saying its military action against neighboring Georgia last month failed to achieve Moscow's objectives and has put Russia on a path to "self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance."

In a speech, Rice said the United States and Europe must stand up to what she described as Russia's bullying behavior, and she railed against "anachronistic Russian displays of military power" in Latin America. She referred to the arrival of two Russian strategic bombers in Venezuela last week for training flights at the invitation of Venezuela's anti-American president, Hugo Chávez.

But Rice said the United States will not let differences with Russia's government "obstruct a deepening relationship between the American and Russian people" and will continue to "support all Russians who want a future of liberty."

The State Department billed Rice's speech as an important statement on relations with Russia, though with the Bush administration in its waning months, there was little new policy outlined in it. An expert on Soviet and Eastern European militaries, Rice nonetheless has been criticized for her handling of U.S. policy toward Russia over the past eight years. The speech seemed intended to leave behind the administration's assessment of U.S.-Russian relations -- and to serve as a warning to Moscow that the ball was now in its court.

Rice emphatically rejected the idea that the United States and Russia are engaged in a new Cold War. And she sought to explain how Russia has evolved since the 1990s by noting that after the fall of the Soviet Union, many Russians "experienced a sense of dishonor and dislocation that we in the West did not fully appreciate."

But "an acute sense of shame" over Russia's diminished status in the 1990s "does not excuse Russian behavior" today, Rice said.

"What has become clear is that the legitimate goal of rebuilding the Russian state has taken a dark turn," she said, citing a rollback of personal freedoms, pervasive corruption and a "paranoid, aggressive impulse" to view neighboring new democracies as threats.

Speaking before a gathering of the German Marshall Fund in Washington, Rice vowed that the United States and Europe "will resist any Russian attempt to consign sovereign nations and free peoples to some archaic 'sphere of influence' " and "will not allow Russia to wield a veto over the future of our Euro-Atlantic community."

The secretary's remarks represented an intensification of the criticism Washington has leveled at Russia since early August, when Russian troops went into Georgia in what Moscow said was a response to Georgian attacks on Russian-backed rebels in the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Georgia charged that the Russian action amounted to an invasion aimed at toppling the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The United States and European allies denounced Russia's move, saying its assault went far beyond anything needed to protect Russian peacekeeping troops in South Ossetia and another breakaway province, Abkhazia. Russia later officially recognized the two provinces as independent states, a move so far joined only by the government of Nicaragua and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

According to Rice, Russia's actions "fit into a worsening pattern of behavior over several years." She mentioned, among other grievances, Russia's "intimidation" of neighboring states, its use of its oil and gas resources as "a political weapon" and its arms sales to "states and groups that threaten international security."

The emerging picture, Rice said, "is that of a Russia increasingly authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad."

Russia's invasion of Georgia has not achieved any "enduring strategic objective," she said. The U.S. goal now "is to make it clear to Russia's leaders that their choices are putting Russia on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance."

Following its actions in Georgia, "Russia's international standing is worse than at any time since 1991," Rice said.

Staff writer Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.

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