Rice accuses Russia of relying on force

Times Staff Writer

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday condemned Russia for what she said was a growing reliance on military power as she headed for Europe to increase allied pressure for Moscow to withdraw its forces from Georgia.

Rice, in her toughest criticism of the Kremlin to date, said Russia’s incursion into Georgia was part of a pattern in which the government has increasingly turned to its military to assert its influence. She cited Russia’s increasing practice of sending long-range bombers on patrol near U.S. and allied coastlines, and its dispute with the British over the alleged poisoning of a former KGB agent in London.

“Russia is a state that is unfortunately using the one tool it has always used when it wants to deliver a message . . . that’s its military power,” she told reporters on her airplane en route to Belgium. She said Russian bomber patrols during the last six months near the U.S. and Europe were, in particular, a “dangerous game.”

Rice and President Bush have been intensifying their criticism of Russia in recent days over the fighting in Georgia.


She will meet today with NATO officials and European Union leaders to seek to persuade them to step up support for Georgia and for other former Soviet republics that feel threatened by Russia’s recent show of muscle. On Wednesday, she will stop in Warsaw for the formal signing of a U.S.- Polish accord to operate a missile defense system on Polish soil -- a deal opposed by Russia.

Rice said a strong statement from NATO leaders would show the Russians that they will not succeed in their “strategic objective” of undermining the government of Georgia and the country’s democracy.

U.S. officials say they recognize that North Atlantic Treaty Organization members are divided on how far to go in pushing Russia, which is a key supplier of oil and gas to Europe. But they believe they can bring stronger pressure if NATO issues even a general statement of support for the government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and begins a public discussion of retaliatory measures against Russia.

American officials believe the Europeans have great leverage over the Russians, who want ties to the European economy.