- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006

MOSCOW — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a symbolic rebuke yesterday to Russia over shrinking press freedoms even as she courted President Vladimir Putin for help punishing Iran over its nuclear program.

Miss Rice made a point of scheduling an interview with Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper where a reporter critical of Russian policy in neighboring Chechnya had worked before her slaying this month. Miss Rice also met with the reporter’s son.

Miss Rice’s one-day trip to Moscow followed talks in Asia last week over North Korea’s nuclear test on Oct. 9.

Russia voted for U.N. penalties against North Korea after the test, and the United States is seeking Russian cooperation for an upcoming vote on sanctions against Iran.

Yet even before Miss Rice arrived in the Russian capital, her Russian counterpart said Moscow will not allow the Security Council to be used for punitive measures against Iran.

Russia, however, was ready to discuss ways to pressure Iran into accepting broader international oversight of its nuclear program, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

“Any measures of influence should encourage creating conditions for talks,” Mr. Lavrov said in an interview with the Kuwaiti News Agency KUNA that was posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry Web site yesterday.

“We won’t be able to support and will oppose any attempts to use the Security Council to punish Iran or use Iran’s program in order to promote the ideas of regime change there,” according to the interview yesterday.

A draft resolution is expected to be introduced in the Security Council early this week, and diplomats have said they would seek limited penalties for Tehran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

Miss Rice’s decision to meet with Novaya Gazeta editors and reporters was a reminder to Mr. Putin of the widening rift between Russia and the United States over what the Bush administration sees as a rollback of democratic gains under the Russian president.

She met privately with Mr. Putin later yesterday.

Previewing her message to the newspaper editors, Miss Rice told reporters traveling with her that she wanted to speak to one of a shrinking number of “independent voices” in Russian media.

“The fate of journalists in Russia is a major concern,” Miss Rice said. “Anna Polikovskaya was a particularly well-known and well-respected journalist, so I think it’s important to note that.”

Mrs. Polikovskaya repeatedly had accused Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov’s security forces of abducting, torturing and killing innocent people. Her newspaper posthumously published her last story, which described reputed torture by the Kremlin-backed Chechen security services.

Mrs. Polikovskaya, a sharp critic of Mr. Putin’s and the conduct of the Kremlin and of Russia’s war in Chechnya, was found fatally shot at her Moscow apartment building. It appeared to be a professional hit.

Since Mr. Putin’s election more than six years ago, he has presided over what critics have called a steady rollback in press freedoms won since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Top independent television stations have been shut down and newspapers are under growing pressure from officials.

Mr. Putin said the killers had done the Russian government no favor. The killing “inflicts much greater damage to the government than any of her writing,” he said after the killing.

The media rights group Reporters Without Borders has called Mr. Putin one of the world’s press freedom “predators.”


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