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Russia: Moscow Lashes Out At U.S. National Strategy

Ties between Putin and Bush remain warm, but overall Russian-U.S. ties face challenges (file photo) (CTK) Russia on Monday lambasted the latest version of the White House's "National Security Strategy," published March 16. In this 49-page foreign-policy blueprint, Washington criticizes Russia's democracy record and warns that U.S.-Russian relations will depend directly on the Kremlin's policies both at home and abroad.

MOSCOW, March 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The two-paragraph reference to Russia in the U.S. strategy document spells out Washington's concerns over Russian President Vladimir Putin's commitment to democracy.

It warns Moscow that efforts to prevent democratic progress both in Russia and abroad will hamper relations with neighboring countries, Europe, and the United States. It also cautions that Russia's foreign policy -- specifically in the Middle East and Asia -- will strongly influence bilateral ties with Washington in the future.

'Populist Scorn'

Russia responded by pouring scorn on the document in a tough-worded communique released by the Foreign Ministry on 20 March.
Markov says Russia is interested in a strategic partnership with the United States. But Washington must show respect for Russia's other bilateral relations, particularly with former Soviet states.

"Should we understand this means that in the immediate future U.S.-Russian relations face far from the best of times?" the statement reads. "One cannot escape the impression that [Washington] is using populist slogans in its own interests."

"No one has, or can have, a monopoly on the interpretation of democracy," the statement continues. "One can contribute to the creation of democracy, but each state must follow its own path toward democracy, as did and does the United States."

The Russian Foreign Ministry also lamented the fact that the strategy report makes no mention of the positive aspects of U.S.-Russian relations.

A Stronger Russia

Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst who heads the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow, says the ministry's anger is legitimate.

The United States, he says, must learn to accept Russia's growing global clout.

"I think that Russia is trying to protect itself from the U.S. desire to impose its will," Markov said. "The United States needs to learn how to interact with Russia, which is becoming stronger. They are finding this difficult after 10 years when Russia was very weak and agreed with the United States on almost everything. We are open to criticism of the Russian political system, but in the case when the positive aspects are also recognized."

Markov says that Russia is still very much interested in a strategic partnership with the United States, but that Washington must show more respect for Russia's interests in shaping bilateral relations, particularly with former Soviet states.

Worries Over Worsening Ties

Not all, however, share this view in Russia.

Viktor Kremenyuk, the deputy director of the U.S.A.-Canada Institute in Moscow, calls the Foreign Ministry's statement "hysterical."

He says Russia's reluctance to accept criticism and resolve differences with the United States could have very serious consequences for Russia.

"The trend of worsening relations has been developing for a couple of years. Experts have been writing about it and warning that things could end very badly," Kremenyuk said.

He added: "Now is the time to think about how we expect to live longer. The sphere of our confrontation with the United States has moved to the CIS -- to Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. If they [the United States] squeeze us there too, Russia will be isolated. Its only ally will be [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka."

A Middle East Barrier

Despite warm personal relations between Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush, the White House has voiced growing worries about Moscow's efforts to improve its diplomatic standing in the Middle East.

The United States is particularly concerned about Russia's relationship with Iran and its recent overtures to the radical Palestinian group Hamas.

But Kremenyuk says Washington is no less worried by what it perceives as Russia's drifting toward a totalitarian state.

"The Americans have sent a signal that they see a threat in Russia's actions. Americans are very careful about what is happening inside Russia. They consider that an undemocratic, totalitarian system is being reestablished in Russia," said Kremenyuk. "This is worrying them, because for Americans, the combination of a police state and nuclear weapons is a totally unacceptable option. They will fight it."

The "National Security Strategy" paper is the latest in a series of U.S. reports sharply criticizing Russian policy.

The Council on Foreign Relations, a prestigious think tank based in New York, issued a report on March 5 describing Putin's regime as increasingly authoritarian and urging the White House to stop regarding Russia as a strategic partner.

A few days later, the U.S. State Department in its annual human rights report slammed Russia for backsliding on democracy.

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