- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2005

MOSCOW — Russia was the 18th country that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited since she assumed office three months ago, but no other trip was more personal for her than the 24-hour stop in Moscow last week.

It was so personal, in fact, that she allowed herself to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin that she disagrees with his vision “about the future course” of his country.

American officials have long been accused of offering unsolicited advice to other countries on subjects from democracy to economic development to human rights.

But Miss Rice’s remark to the leader of such a vast and strategically important country — who also has a close relationship with President Bush — grew out of an affinity for Russia that she once compared to a love affair.

“There is something about certain cultures that you just take to,” she said in an interview five years ago, when serving as a campaign adviser to Mr. Bush.

“It’s like love — you can’t explain why you fall in love. Culture is something you can adopt, and I have a great affinity for Russia. It certainly has nothing to do with my ethnic heritage.”

Miss Rice’s personal interest in Russia dates back to her college years and was inspired by Josef Korbel, a diplomat and professor at the University of Denver where she earned her bachelor’s and doctorate degrees. Mr. Korbel was the father of Madeleine K. Albright, the Clinton administration secretary of state.

Miss Rice, who was provost at Stanford University in the 1990s, learned to speak almost fluent Russian, although she acknowledges she has neglected it since she left academia to become Mr. Bush’s national security adviser four years ago.

In Moscow last week, she ventured only a few sentences in her hosts’ language in two local interviews, commenting on her difficulty with Russian grammar with its “horrific” six cases. “It’s difficult to speak without mistakes,” she told Radio Ekho Moskvy.

In that same live interview, the secretary voiced her regret that many Russians — including those in government — still view the United States as a strategic adversary.

“I would say to people, the United States is not an enemy of Russia — it’s not against Russian interests,” she said. “What we want very much is to have a constructive and friendly relationship with Russia based on common values where we can solve common problems.”

Later that day, Miss Rice told reporters on her plane that Russians will continue to harbor Cold War stereotypes about the United States for some time.

“It used to be that it was the Soviet Union and the United States. It was a period in which there was heavy propaganda about the American role. I remember that there was heavy propaganda about why the Soviet Union broke up, about what role the United States may have played in that,” she said.

“And you have to remember that it takes a long time to overcome attitudes when people have been told that … it’s a zero-sum game between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

In the 2000 interview, Miss Rice said “it was initially hard for the Russians to accept” her when she began dealing with them in 1989 as a special assistant for Soviet and Eastern European affairs for President George Bush.

“I never figured out whether it was because I was female, or black, or young. But by and large, they’ve managed to deal with it,” she said.

Accepting her is not a problem today, and she says she has friendly and truly meaningful conversations with Mr. Putin, whom she told last week that he has accumulated too much power.

“He’s actually quite easy to talk to. He is willing to talk about difficult subjects and does it without being defensive. And he is someone who obviously wants his country to succeed,” Miss Rice said in an interview with Fox News last week.

“We haven’t always agreed about the future course of Russia, but there is no doubt that this man is a patriot; he cares deeply about his people, deeply about his country,” she said.

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