- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Russia on Thursday that its newly found economic prosperity could suffer because of the “dark turn” its leaders have taken toward “authoritarianism” and international “irrelevance.”

In a speech designed to appeal directly to the Russian people, Miss Rice acknowledged their pride of the country’s economic success and reassertion of its power since Vladimir Putin became president in 1999. But she said that Mr. Putin, who is now prime minister, had gone too far in his ambitions.

“Russia’s international standing is worse now than at any time since 1991,” the secretary said, according to an advance copy of the speech to the German Marshall Fund of the United States released by the State Department.

“Russias leaders are imposing pain on their nation’s economy. Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization is now in question, and so, too, is its attempt to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” she said. “Our strategic goal now is to make it clear to Russia’s leaders that their choices are putting Russia on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance.”

Miss Rice referred specifically to Russia’s invasion of Georgia last month as an expression of its “mistakes.” She conceded, however, that the government of the former Soviet republic shared the blame for the initial military developments.

“On August 7, following repeated violations of the ceasefire in South Ossetia, including the shelling of Georgian villages, the Georgian government launched a major military operation into Tskhinvali and other areas of that separatist region,” she said. “Georgia’s leaders could have responded better to the events last month in South Ossetia, and it benefits no one to pretend otherwise. We warned [them] that Russia was baiting them, and that taking this bait would only play into Moscow’s hands.”

The magnitude of Russia’s “premeditated invasion,” as well as its “its use of oil and gas as a political weapon” and “persecution” of journalists and dissidents, show a “pattern of behavior” of a “Russia increasingly authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad.”

Miss Rice and other senior U.S. officials have warned Moscow about its growing “international isolation” before, but this week they are trying to appeal directly to the Russians’ economic security prospects.

William J. Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs and until recently U.S. ambassador to Moscow, told Congress on Wednesday that investor confidence in Russia has plummeted, capital has fled the country, and the Russian central bank has spent billions of its reserves to shore up a declining ruble.

Suggesting that Russia’s new president, Dmitri Medvedev, is not really in charge, Miss Rice said in her speech that his goals of “investment, innovation, institutional reform and infrastructure improvements to expand Russia’s economy” have yet to be achieved.

Many Russians, she said, remember the 1990s “as a time of license and lawlessness, economic uncertainty and social chaos; a time when criminals, gangsters and robber barons plundered the Russian state and preyed on the weakest of Russian society; a time when many Russians - not just elites and former apparatchiks, but ordinary men and women - experienced a sense of dishonor and dislocation that we in the West did not fully appreciate.”

So it was understandable that they “felt relieved and proud when new leaders emerged at the end of the last decade, who sought to reconstitute the Russian state and reassert its power abroad,” she said. “An imperfect authority was seen, not surprisingly, as better than none at all.”

“What has become clear is that the legitimate goal of rebuilding Russia has taken a dark turn - with the rollback of personal freedoms, the arbitrary enforcement of the law, the pervasive corruption at various levels of Russian society and the paranoid, aggressive impulse” of its foreign policy, Miss Rice said.

“Whether Russia’s leaders overcome their nostalgia for another time, and reconcile themselves to the sources of power and the exercise of power in the 21st century this still remains to be seen,” she said.

Related stories:

“Russian markets closed until Friday”.

“Russia ties deepen U.S. pressure”.

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