Rice to visit Moscow


Summary

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her way to Moscow in a bid
to halt a dramatic slide in US-Russian relations.

Amid a spike in East-West tensions, Rice was to meet a series of officials, including President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

She was to start on Monday by having dinner with First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, the US embassy in Moscow said. Ivanov, who oversees the military-industrial sector of the economy, is seen as a favourite to replace Putin after elections next March.

Tensions centre on NATO and US military expansion into territory formerly ruled from Moscow, in particular plans to extend a US missile defence shield into central Europe.

The United States and Poland were to begin formal talks on Monday on plans to place 10 interceptor rockets in Poland as part of the shield, which Moscow fiercely opposes.

Also aggravating relations has been US criticism of Putin's democracy record and the Kremlin's unease with plans for Kosovo's independence.

Russia's Kommersant newspaper wrote on Monday that Moscow and Washington have lost all trust and now see each other as posing a threat.

"There's no point expecting any breakthroughs," Kommersant said.

"With her current trip to Moscow, Rice begins a new phase in… relations. As in the days of the USSR, Washington will be guided by a doctrine of 'strategic patience' when it comes to Moscow," the paper said.

A sharp downturn has been evident since Putin made a full-frontal assault on US foreign policy in a speech in the German city of Munich in February in which he attacked the United States as a reckless "unipolar" power.

Tempers frayed last week when Putin gave a speech during World War II commemorations that some in Washington interpreted as equating US foreign policy with "the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionalism and diktat… as in the Third Reich."

Afterwards worried US diplomats said they had been assured by the Kremlin that the comments did not refer to Washington.

Earlier, Rice made clear that the United States remained wary of Putin's leadership.

"I think everybody around the world, in Europe, in the United States, is very concerned about the internal course that Russia has taken in recent years," she told a Senate committee on Thursday.

She said Putin had overseen a rollback of democratic reforms introduced following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, undermining the independence of the legislature, the media and judiciary.

"The concentration of power in the Kremlin has been troubling," she said.

Rice was due to meet five representatives of Russian non-governmental organizations on Tuesday. Civil society has come under pressure during Putin's rule, particularly groups receiving Western funding.

Washington insists that its plan to place elements of a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic is not directed against Russia but is needed to protect against "rogue states" such as Iran.

Moscow however sees the plan as a threat.

Last month Putin said Russia was freezing compliance with a key accord on European security, the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty.

Meanwhile a US-backed plan currently before the United Nations to grant supervised independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo has added to tensions.

A long-time ally of Serbia, Russia says giving independence to Kosovo would set a dangerous precedent.

State Department officials said Rice would broach all these subjects on a trip ostensibly designed to smooth relations before Putin and Bush meet at a Group of Eight (G8) summit next month in Germany.


US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her way to Moscow in a bid
to halt a dramatic slide in US-Russian relations.

Amid a spike in East-West tensions, Rice was to meet a series of officials, including President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

She was to start on Monday by having dinner with First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, the US embassy in Moscow said. Ivanov, who oversees the military-industrial sector of the economy, is seen as a favourite to replace Putin after elections next March.

Tensions centre on NATO and US military expansion into territory formerly ruled from Moscow, in particular plans to extend a US missile defence shield into central Europe.

The United States and Poland were to begin formal talks on Monday on plans to place 10 interceptor rockets in Poland as part of the shield, which Moscow fiercely opposes.

Also aggravating relations has been US criticism of Putin's democracy record and the Kremlin's unease with plans for Kosovo's independence.

Russia's Kommersant newspaper wrote on Monday that Moscow and Washington have lost all trust and now see each other as posing a threat.

"There's no point expecting any breakthroughs," Kommersant said.

"With her current trip to Moscow, Rice begins a new phase in… relations. As in the days of the USSR, Washington will be guided by a doctrine of 'strategic patience' when it comes to Moscow," the paper said.

A sharp downturn has been evident since Putin made a full-frontal assault on US foreign policy in a speech in the German city of Munich in February in which he attacked the United States as a reckless "unipolar" power.

Tempers frayed last week when Putin gave a speech during World War II commemorations that some in Washington interpreted as equating US foreign policy with "the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionalism and diktat… as in the Third Reich."

Afterwards worried US diplomats said they had been assured by the Kremlin that the comments did not refer to Washington.

Earlier, Rice made clear that the United States remained wary of Putin's leadership.

"I think everybody around the world, in Europe, in the United States, is very concerned about the internal course that Russia has taken in recent years," she told a Senate committee on Thursday.

She said Putin had overseen a rollback of democratic reforms introduced following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, undermining the independence of the legislature, the media and judiciary.

"The concentration of power in the Kremlin has been troubling," she said.

Rice was due to meet five representatives of Russian non-governmental organizations on Tuesday. Civil society has come under pressure during Putin's rule, particularly groups receiving Western funding.

Washington insists that its plan to place elements of a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic is not directed against Russia but is needed to protect against "rogue states" such as Iran.

Moscow however sees the plan as a threat.

Last month Putin said Russia was freezing compliance with a key accord on European security, the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty.

Meanwhile a US-backed plan currently before the United Nations to grant supervised independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo has added to tensions.

A long-time ally of Serbia, Russia says giving independence to Kosovo would set a dangerous precedent.

State Department officials said Rice would broach all these subjects on a trip ostensibly designed to smooth relations before Putin and Bush meet at a Group of Eight (G8) summit next month in Germany.