- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

The Bush administration said yesterday it is more concerned with China’s cloaked spending on arms and troops than it is about a warning Wednesday from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the United States that “it is premature to speak of the end of the arms race.”

But the White House did say it was disappointed that Mr. Putin, in an annual address to the Russian people, did not talk more about instilling democratic values.

“Russia is going to make its own decisions about what military capabilities it thinks it needs,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

He then began comparing the Russian military-spending system, whereby Mr. Putin must submit his arms budget in public to a democratically elected parliament, with communist China, where defense spending is kept secret.

China, using huge revenues from a fast-growing economy, has commenced on a military expansion of troops, nuclear weapons, aircraft and ballistic missiles positioned near Taiwan.

“We believe the Chinese military buildup is outsized to its needs, and specifically, we have mentioned the buildup just opposite on Taiwan on the Taiwan Straits,” Mr. McCormack told reporters. “We believe that in the past the Chinese government has not been transparent as to the amount that it has been spending, and that was the point I was trying to make about the Russian government’s expenditures, is that there is an open political process that their budget goes through.”

The spokesman dismissed talk that Mr. Putin’s blunt talk portends a new era of hostility.

“There is a big difference between the Cold War and present day, certainly, where there’s transparency,” he said. “In terms of Russian government budget expenditures, these expenditures need to pass through the Russian parliament. They are proposed by their executive branch. So it’s a fundamental different proposition than we had 30 or 40 years ago.”

Echoes of the Cold War, however, have sounded of late.

Russian has moved to influence the former Soviet republics by threatening to cut off energy flows, prompting Vice President Dick Cheney to rebuke the policy during a trip to the Baltic nations. Washington is wary of steps Mr. Putin has taken to consolidate power and restrict the press. And Russian government officials worry about an expanding NATO alliance squeezing Moscow’s western flank.

Frederick Jones, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said the NSC is still analyzing the speech, but said the administration is “disappointed” that Mr. Putin didn’t answer concerns about his commitment to democracy or Russia’s attempts to put economic pressure on its neighbors.

“We continue to encourage Russia to honor its international commitments to fundamental freedoms, to respect the values of freedom and democracy at home, and not to impede the cause of freedom and democracy in the region,” Mr. Jones said.

Still, he said, the two countries will work together “on a number of important security and economic issues, even as we raise these concerns.”

Pentagon spokesmen declined to comment yesterday, and one official referred questions to the State Department.

But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld criticized Russia in a May 4 column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Consider Russia — a nation with vast natural resources, an educated people, and a rich heritage of scientific and cultural achievements. Like our people, Russians are threatened by violent extremism,” Mr. Rumsfeld wrote. “They are a partner in some security issues, and, on the whole, our relationship is better than it has been in decades. But in other ways Russia has been unhelpful — with regard to its use of energy resources as a political weapon, and in its resistance to positive political changes in neighboring countries.”

Mr. Putin said Wednesday that, “We must always be ready to counter any attempts to pressure Russia in order to strengthen positions at our expense. The stronger our military is, the less temptation there will be to exert such pressure on us.”

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