- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Russia on Thursday that its standing globally had dropped to the lowest level since 1991 over its invasion of Georgia - remarks that illustrated continued deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations as both nations battled to contain respective economic meltdowns.

Miss Rice acknowledged the pride of the country’s economic success and reassertion of its power since Vladimir Putin became president in 1999.

But she said 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.

Like the U.S., the Kremlin found itself in crisis mode Thursday, pledging a $20 billion infusion to shore up Russia’s battered markets as it seeks to ward off a financial crash and restore confidence in its fragile banking sector.

Miss Rice alluded to Russia’s own financial crisis, saying its 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.”

“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 cease-fire 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.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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