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Rice Says West Must Not Tolerate Russian 'Bullying'

Rice warned Russia against moving toward 'isolation and irrelevance'
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The West must stand up to "bullying" by Moscow and keep Russia from benefiting from its military move into Georgia, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said in a harshly-worded speech.

In her first major address on Russia since its incursion into Georgia last month, Rice on September 18 described Moscow as increasingly authoritarian and aggressive and said its aims in the Caucasus state would be frustrated.

"Russia's leaders will not accomplish their primary war aim of removing Georgia's government," she said in her speech to the German Marshall Fund, an independent think tank in Washington.

The United States and Europe must not allow what she called Russia's aggression against the Georgian government of President Mikheil Saakashvili to achieve any benefit in Georgia or elsewhere, she said. "Our strategic 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," Rice said.

"We cannot afford to validate the prejudices that some Russian leaders seem to have: that if you pressure free nations enough -- if you bully, and threaten, and lash out -- we will cave in, and forget, and eventually concede," Rice said. "The United States and Europe must stand up to this kind of behavior, and all who champion it."

Moscow drew international condemnation for sending troops to Georgia last month to stop Tbilisi's attempt to reassert control over the pro-Russian, separatist region of South Ossetia. Moscow later recognized South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent states.

However, Washington and its allies do not agree on how to handle Georgia's pro-Western ambitions. Some European governments have misgivings about allowing Georgia to take the first step toward joining the NATO alliance, which the Bush administration supports.

The State Department said Rice had telephoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on September 18 and told him she would be giving the speech. "They spoke quite a bit about Georgia," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

'Worsening Behavior'

Rice, a former Soviet expert who has presided over a steady deterioration of relations with Russia, said Russia's invasion of Georgia was part of a "worsening pattern of behavior" that included its use of oil and gas as a political weapon, the suspension of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, and a threat to target peaceful nations with nuclear weapons.

"The picture emerging from this pattern of behavior is that of a Russia increasingly authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad," she said.

Rice repeated previous U.S. warnings that Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization was now in question, as well as its attempt to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

McCormack said Washington would continue to work with Moscow on issues such as pressuring Iran to suspend work on its nuclear program.

Rice noted Russia has found scant global backing for its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia."A pat on the back from Daniel Ortega and Hamas is hardly a diplomatic triumph," she said, referring to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and the Palestinian movement Hamas.

Rice scoffed at Moscow's dispatch of two long-range bombers known by the NATO code-name Blackjack to Venezuela and its plans to send a nuclear battle cruiser to the Caribbean for exercises with the navy of Venezuela, whose leftist president, Hugo Chavez, is a longtime foe of Washington.

"We are confident that our ties with our neighbors...will in no way be diminished by a few aging Blackjack bombers visiting one of Latin America's few autocracies," she said.