Rice warns Russia against the 'dark turn' of its policies

The West must stand up to "bullying" by Moscow, which is becoming increasingly authoritarian and aggressive, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in her first major speech on Russia since the beginning of the Georgian conflict.


US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned on Thursday that Russia risks reversing its gains toward global integration with its "dark turn" toward authoritarianism at home and aggression abroad.

In a hard-hitting speech in Washington, Rice said Russia's leaders went too far when they ordered the August 7 invasion of neighboring Georgia and they now face what she said is a united US-European diplomatic defense of Tbilisi.

The attack "has crystallized the course that Russia's leaders are taking -- and brought us to a critical moment for Russia and the world," Rice told the German Marshall Fund, a transatlantic policy research group.

The United States and its European allies, she continued, are "acting as one in supporting Georgia," which accuses Russia of seeking to annex the breakaway Georgian areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

And Russia now risks undermining the steps it has taken toward being integrated into world economic and political institutions since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, she said.

"Russia's leaders are imposing pain on their nation's economy," she said.

"Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) is now in question. And so too is its attempt to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development," the chief US diplomat added.

Rice appeared to underscore a State Department view that President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin might lose their popularity in Russia once the economic fallout of their decisions fully sinks in.

"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 after briefing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ahead of the speech.

With US-EU cooperation, Rice said Russia's leaders, whom she frequently scolded but never mentioned by name, will fail to "accomplish their primary war aim of removing Georgia's government."

Rice earlier this month announced one billion dollars in aid for Georgia. The European Union has pledged 500 million euros.

Rice, a former Stanford University academic who specialized in Russia and the former Soviet Union, said that Russian actions toward Georgia fit into "a worsening pattern of behavior over several years."

She cited Russia's "use of oil and gas as a political weapon, its unilateral suspension of the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) Treaty, its threat to target peaceful nations with nuclear weapons, its arms sales to states and groups that threaten international security," and alleged rights abuses.

"What has become clear is that the legitimate goal of rebuilding Russia has taken a dark turn," she said.

In Russia, there is now a "rollback" of personal freedoms, "arbitrary enforcement of the law," and widespread corruption, as well as the "paranoid, aggressive impulse which has manifested itself before in Russian history."

It demonstrated such impulses by reacting to positive democratic developments among its neighbors as threats to its own security, she said.

Rice said Russia was finding an excuse for its behavior in blaming NATO's eastward expansion to include former Soviet territory. Washington has supported efforts by Georgia and Ukraine to join the western alliance.

Despite US-Russian differences, Rice said, they did not mark a return to the Cold War and Washington will continue working with Moscow on areas of common concern, such as the international drive to stop Iran's sensitive nuclear work.

She also said Washington will continue to sponsor student, academic and other exchanges between the two societies.

No concrete retaliatory measures emerged in the speech which was laced with Rice's own personal observations about how she has seen Russia benefit economically from being integrated into the world economy.

US officials have said Washington is reviewing "other options," beyond its suspension of civilian nuclear and military cooperation with Russia.

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