Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Andrew F. Tully
September 19, 2008
WASHINGTON — Relations between Russia and the United States reached a new low with last month’s war between Russia and Georgia.
Speaking at the German Marshall Fund, an independent think tank in Washington., U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Europe and the United States to stand up to Moscow for what she called its “unfortunate choices,” and said Russia’s decision to invade Georgia had left Russia virtually without friends in the international community.
Rice said Europe and the United States must act together to oppose what she called the “bullying” that has characterized Russia’s relations with former members of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s behavior, both at home and abroad, she said, have brought the country “self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance.”
In recent years, Rice said, Russia has resorted to actions against its neighbors that she said was beneath the behavior of the great power that Russia could be.
“What is more disturbing about Russia’s actions is that they fit into a worsening pattern of behavior over several years now. I’m referring, among other things, to Russia’s intimidation of its sovereign neighbors, its 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 its persecution, and worse, of Russian journalists and dissidents and others,” Rice said.
And domestically, she said, Russia’s leaders have presided over an increasingly authoritarian rule that brings it further away from — not closer to — democracy. She deplored what she called Russia’s “persecution and worse” of journalists and dissidents.
During this decline, Rice said, the United States has tried to engage Russia constructively. But she said that effort obviously had failed.
Dialogue between Washington and Moscow since the war in Georgia broke out six weeks ago has been harsh, and Rice’s speech on September 18 elevated the level of rhetoric. The secretary at no point raised her voice, but her words were stern, and at one point even sarcastic.
Rice called Russia’s move into Georgia “premeditated,” and noted that after hostilities ended in Georgia, the world rushed to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure that had been damaged by the presence of Russian troops.
Meanwhile, she said, Russia had to be satisfied with encouragement from only the most trivial of backers — from Nicaragua and the Palestinian group Hamas, which she described as “not a diplomatic triumph.”
And Rice said Russia failed to reap any lasting benefits from the war in Georgia. It proved the obvious, she said, namely that it could easily defeat a small neighbor. But she noted that Georgia’s democracy remains intact, its economy will soon thrive again, and with the help of its allies, its independence will be guaranteed.
Russia, meanwhile, will have gained nothing. “Russia’s invasion of Georgia has achieved — and will achieve — no enduring strategic objective,” she said. “And our strategic goal now is to make clear to Russia’s leaders that their choices could put Russia on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance.”
Too Tough, Not Tough Enough
Some critics of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush have said it has only itself to blame for Russia’s recent behavior because it was either too critical of Moscow or too lenient, or because the U.S.-led war in Iraq set a precedent that Russia could follow.
Rice rejected such arguments, saying Russia bears sole responsibility for its actions. “It is simply not valid either to blame Russia’s behavior on the United States, either for being too tough with Russia or not tough enough, too unaccommodating to Russia’s interests or too naive about its leaders,” she said.
“Since the end of the Cold War, spanning three administrations, both Democratic and Republican, the United States has sought to encourage the emergence of a strong, prosperous and responsible Russia,” she added. “We have treated Russia not as a vanquished enemy but as an emerging partner. We have supported politically and financially Russia’s transition to a modern market-based economy and a free, peaceful society. And we have respected Russia as a great power.”
Rice called on Europe to work together with the United States to resist Russia’s efforts to exert power through its wealth of energy resources. And she urged former Soviet Republics to join with them to demonstrate their independence.
“The United States and Europe are deepening our cooperation in pursuit of greater energy [independence], working with Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and Turkey, and the Caspian countries,” Rice said. “We will expand and defend open global energy in the economy from abusive practices. There cannot be one set of rules for Russia, Inc., and another for everyone else.”
She said Russia may be a seemingly limitless source of oil and gas, but it has to recognize it has nothing if it has hostile customers.
Rice concluded by saying Russia’s leaders seem to have what she called a “nostalgia for another time” — presumably the authoritarian years of the Soviet Union. Whether they give up that nostalgia, she said, remains to be seen. She said all will depend on the choices they make from now on.