- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday accused Russia of using its energy resources as a political weapon, saying such behavior does not befit a responsible member — and the new chairman — of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries.

Other senior U.S. officials said Miss Rice’s rebuke of Moscow’s decision to cut natural-gas supplies to Ukraine on Sunday reflected a growing frustration in Washington at what one official called Russia’s “inexplicable or just mad” behavior.

“The game just can’t be played that way,” the secretary said of Moscow’s weekend actions, which also affected supplies to Western Europe. “When you say you want to be … a responsible actor in the international economy, then you [should] play by its rules.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington said it was “disappointed” by Miss Rice’s “one-sided” comments. The country is scheduled to serve this year as G-8 chairman.

Miss Rice, at a breakfast with State Department reporters, said, “It was not a good week from the point of view of Russia’s demonstrating that it is now prepared to act as an energy supplier in a responsible way.

“That type of behavior is going to continue to draw comment about the dissonance between Russian behavior on something like this and what should be expected from a responsible member of the G-8,” she said.

She accused the Kremlin of “politically motivated efforts to constrain energy supply to Ukraine” as punishment for the former Soviet republic’s pro-Western orientation.

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy said his government “never politicized the issue.”

He acknowledged that the negotiations at times had been “tense and precarious,” but he said the final deal had solved a long-running dispute with Ukraine over natural-gas prices and cemented Russia’s status as a prime energy supplier to the rest of Europe.

Russia set off alarm bells across Europe on Sunday when it briefly halted energy shipments that travel through a Ukrainian pipeline to Western European markets.

Echoing Miss Rice’s criticisms, officials in Poland and other Eastern European states accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using his country’s vast energy reserves to reassert control of states once part of the Soviet Union’s Cold War empire.

Officials from the European Union also said the cutoff raised new questions about Russia’s long-term reliability as a source of energy.

David R. Sands contributed to this report.