- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

From combined dispatches

MOSCOW — A Russian newspaper said yesterday that Vice President Dick Cheney’s harsh criticism of Moscow’s human rights record signaled the start of a new Cold War.

The Kommersant business daily compared Mr. Cheney’s speech Thursday in Lithuania to Winston Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Mo., saying in that it “marked the beginning of a second Cold War.”

Asked to comment on the comparison, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov refrained from criticizing Mr. Cheney, according to the Associated Press. But he condemned the conference in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, which brought together pro-Western Eastern European leaders.

“There are forums that create an impression that they are convened … for the sake of uniting against someone,” Mr. Lavrov said.

The White House yesterday backed Mr. Cheney’s tough speech on Russia and said Russian President Vladimir Putin should move on democratic reforms before hosting a major international summit in July, Reuters news agency reported.

Mr. Cheney said in the speech that opponents of democratic reform in Russia “are seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade.”

The Kremlin rejected his remarks, calling them completely incomprehensible, but White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Cheney was stating existing U.S. policy.

“I think that the comments were consistent with what we’ve said previously,” Mr. McClellan said. He added that President Bush and Mr. Putin have a good personal relationship in which they are able to talk candidly about issues of concern.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said Mr. Cheney’s speech “looks like a provocation and interference in Russia’s internal affairs in terms of its content, form and place.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin expressed annoyance that Russia had not been invited to the conference of former Soviet republics and allies.

Mr. Cheney accused Russia of cracking down on religious and political rights and using its energy reserves as “tools of intimidation or blackmail.”

His criticism — some of the Bush administration’s toughest against Russia — came just two months before Mr. Bush joins Mr. Putin in St. Petersburg for a summit of major industrial powers.

Mr. Cheney warned that Russia’s backsliding could harm Moscow’s relations with the United States and Europe.

“Russia has a choice to make. And there is no question that a return to democratic reform in Russia will generate future success for its people and greater respect among fellow nations,” Mr. Cheney said.

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