Cheney Warns Russia to Reverse Its Course

The New York Times
Steven Lee Myer
September 7, 2008

CERNOBBIO, Italy — Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday denounced Russia’s war against Georgia as evidence of a pattern of “troublesome and unhelpful actions” that threatened peace from Central Asia to the Middle East to Europe.

Mr. Cheney, speaking at an international conference here beside Lake Como, said that Russia now faced a choice between cooperation and isolation, and he urged European nations to join the United States in unambiguously supporting Georgia, Ukraine and other new democracies in Russia’s shadow.

“Does Russia really want to separate itself from the community of values that has fueled so much of its own economic progress?” Mr. Cheney asked an annual gathering of political leaders and business executives organized by the European House-Ambrosetti, a private consultancy. “Does the Russian government really wish to operate in the modern world as an outsider, alienating free countries and trying to rally the world’s dictatorships?”

European leaders have uniformly criticized Russia’s attack in Georgia and its recognition of two separatist regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but no clear agreement over how to respond has emerged.

Mr. Cheney, who visited Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine this week to express American support, offered no new proposals either, but he described the conflict as a new test for NATO that required a unified response.

In Moscow, Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, defiantly dismissed criticism like Mr. Cheney’s during remarks to security aides, mocking the inability of the international community to press Russia.

“Russia is a state that from now on must be reckoned with,” Mr. Medvedev said. Then he added a message clearly directed toward critics in the United States and Europe:
“They are trying to put political pressure on us. We, of course, will not simply accept this situation. But they will not be able to do anything. And I would like to state as clearly as possible that this confrontation was not our choice.”
Mr. Cheney has long been the Bush administration’s most vocal hawk, but his remarks on Saturday, originally intended to reflect broadly on Euro-Atlantic security, amounted to a sweeping indictment of Russia’s actions in recent years and a challenge to its leaders to reverse course. The speech, his aides said, was carefully vetted in Washington and reflected the administration’s deep anger over Russia’s incursion into Georgia a month ago.

He called for a continued expansion of the alliance to include Georgia and Ukraine, despite Russian threats, and a diversification of energy supplies, which, he said, Russia has wielded like a weapon to intimidate European nations.

Mr. Cheney noted Russia’s reduction of oil to the Czech Republic after it agreed to build a missile defense radar station and also a Russian suggestion that Poland would be making itself a target if it agreed to deploy missile interceptors. He also cited threats and economic pressure directed against Ukraine and the Baltic states. “That is no way for a responsible power to conduct itself,” he said.

He warned that Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, if not reversed, could lead to new divisions and conflicts on Europe’s eastern borders.

“We know that if one country is allowed to unilaterally redraw the borders of another, it will happen and it will happen again,” he said.

Clifford J. Levy contributed reporting from Moscow.