Friday, May 05, 2006

US warns Russia on democracy

Cheney says that Russia is 'unfairly and improperly' restricting rights and freedoms.
By Tom Regan
With the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg only three months away, the United States has warned Russia that the summit could turn into a fiasco unless Russia demonstrates a solid commitment to democracy in the coming weeks. The Washington Post reports that this position was reinforced by Vice President Dick Cheney during a democracy conference Thursday.
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."
The Post goes on the report that the White House is concerned that President Bush, whose promotion of democracy around the world has been one of the central themes of his presidency, will be attending a meeting of the world's leading democracies in a country that has seemed to turn in the other direction. But Mr. Bush has been loathe to push Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as Mr. Putin has overseen the dismantling of a free press, and the use of oil rights to threaten other countries in the region.

The UK's Daily Telegraph reports, however, that Mr. Cheney's tough remarks show how far the relationship between Bush and Putin has deteriorated since they embraced like old friends during their first meeting in 2001.
Even by the standards of one of President Bush's foremost hawks, the comments were astonishing in their bluntness. One western diplomat described it as the most abrasive speech directed at Russia since Ronald Reagan visited the Brandenburg Gate in 1987 and called on his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, to "tear down this wall".
Mr. Cheney has spearheaded a review of US policy towards the Kremlin in recent months as the White House has become increasingly concerned about Russia's direction under Mr. Putin.
The Russian news website Kommersant reports that the Cheney speech was similar to one given by Winston Churchill 60 years ago, known as the Fulton speech, where he made the famous comment about a "cold war" between the then-Soviet Union and the West.
The theme of the Cold War ran throughout Cheney's speech. That phrase, first spoken exactly 60 years ago by Winston Churchill at Fulton, was used by Cheney three times. He named the heroes of the Cold War who, in his opinion, made the greatest contributions to democracy: Andrey Sakharov, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Pope John Paul II, Natan Sharansky and Ronald Reagan. He mixed interspersed that list with the names of the "heroes of our time": Mikhail Saakashvili, Viktor Yushchenko and Alexander Milinkevich, the Belarusian opposition leader who is now jailed in Minsk. Cheney's words practically point to a renewal of the Cold War, only now the "front line" has changed. "The spread of democracy is irreversible. It is to the benefit of al and poses a threat to no one. The system that has provided hope on the shores of the Baltic Sea can bring hope to the shores of the Black Sea and even farther," Cheney said. "That which is applicable to Vilnius is applicable to Tbilisi and to Kiev, and it is applicable to Minsk and Moscow as well."
The site reports that the Cheney speech basically seemed to say that either Russia should fix its democracy problem, or risk becoming an enemy again.

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