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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (background) and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (center) do not see eye to eye on the Russian parliamentary election.
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Nov. 28, 2007
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Russia Lashes Out at the US for Stepping Back
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the United States as he came to take part in a Middle East forum in Annapolis and accused America of making “a step backwards” in the bilateral relations. The blistering criticism was voiced to counter growing pressure from the United States ahead of the this weekend Russian parliamentary election which is to become the most important test for Russian-US relations in Vladimir Putin and George Bush’s rule.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went to the United States to take part in the Middle East talks in Annapolis and used the trip as an opportunity to discuss burning issues on the Russia-American agenda. The trip included a meeting of the two countries’ policy chiefs that the Russian minister commented to the press in Washington.

It is of not that the majority of questions for Sergey Lavrov dealt with key thorny issues between Moscow and Washington rather than with the Middle East settlement which seems a distant prospect. The picture that the Russian minister painted looked grim.

Commenting on Washington’s recent written proposals on its missile defense system that Moscow had once been optimistic of, Sergey Lavrov said they were “a step backwards” from what U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had discussed at talks in Moscow in October.

According to the Russian minister, the United States is still going to deploy its missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic and are no longer discussing “measures of transparency and building trust” or “joint analysis of potential challenges”. “If they understand cooperation as the development of unilateral plans to construct their anti-missile shield in Eastern Europe and ask us only to help realize these plans and give them our strategic information, we understand it otherwise,” the Russian foreign policy chief said.

However, Mr. Lavrov added that the parties would meet for another session in the United States on missile defense with two defense and foreign ministers with the date to be set by the United States in the nearest future. The meeting will also discus two key disarmament treaties, Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, whose existence has recently been jeopardized. But judging from Sergey Lavrov’s pessimistic statement, he himself no longer believes in the success of the new round out of talks. “There seems to be no progress on these issues so far,” the minister said and reminded that America’s written proposals reduced chances for reaching agreement.

The Russian minister virtually accused the Bush administration of undermining global security and went on to give blistering criticism of the American stance on the Kosovo issue. Mr. Lavrov mentioned talks in Austria between Serbia and Kosovo under the mediation of the United States, the EU and Russia and described them in the following way: “Constant statements that Kosovo’s independence is inevitable undermine our joint efforts by stripping Pristina of any impetus to compromise.”

The Snotty Nose of Washington

Sergey Lavrov, however, reserved the harshest words against Washington for questions on the Russian parliamentary election. Sergey Lavrov paid a lot of attention to the decision of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) not to send its observers to the Russian Duma election. Sergey Lavrov explained that Christian Strohal made the decision after a visit to Washington where U.S. officials had “explained” to him what to do. The Russian minister said that the ODIHR was satisfied with consultations with the Russian Election Commission and Foreign Ministry in Moscow in mid-November. But the ODIHR made the U-turn after Mr. Strohal held consultations at the U.S. Department of State. “Literally, the next morning ODIHR chief Christian Strohal on his way from Washington announced his decision not to send observers to our election,” Sergey Lavrov said. “You can make the conclusions yourselves.”

Asked whether he and Condoleezza Rice had discussed opposition rallies in Russian cities previous weekend the Russian minister called the demonstrators “provocateurs” and made it clear that Moscow does not need Washington’s recommendations on how to ensure democratic norms. “When they urge use to ensure the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly in compliance with our international obligations this is probably a not necessary request because this is fixed in our Constitution,” Sergey Lavrov said.

It is no accident that the Russian policy chief paid so much attention to the role of the United States in the upcoming Russian parliamentary election. His speech in Washington came one day after another blistering statement against the U.S. from President Vladimir Putin on Monday. Mr. Putin said in St. Petersburg at an awards ceremony that the U.S. administration had instructed the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to boycott the poll. “According to our information, this was done at the advice of the U.S. State Department,” Vladimir Putin said citing “totally reliable information. “We will undoubtedly take this into account in our relations with that country.” The Russian leader also advised the foreign forces “not to poke their snotty nose” into Russian affairs.

Meanwhile, a concept of a foreign conspiracy, which was voiced by Sergey Lavrov and Vladimir Putin, with the OSCE as the executor and the Bush administration as the contractor was supported by statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry. “This is, of course, a well-thought move with the aim to discredit results of our election which are not going to follow the scenario of Color Revolutions as it was in the neighboring countries,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Orlov commending on the ODIHR’s decision not to send its observers to Russia.

US Wants Russia Back on the Road for a Stronger Democracy

Washington gave an immediate reaction to Moscow’s accusations. U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, who was visiting Vienna, the city with headquarters of the OSCE, vehemently denied the Russian theory that the U.S. Department of State is behind the decision. “The Department of State’s message was very clear that this was ODIHR’s decision to make,” Mr. Fried said explaining why the United States had held consultations with the ODIHR. “At no time did we directly, indirectly, not through nuance, not through pressure, anything, in no way did we try to steer them.” The Department of State official spokesman Sean McCormack also said on Tuesday that the “this was a decision entirely for the OSCE”. “There has been absolutely no pressure from us,” he said. Mr. McCormack, however, said that the United States regrets that the Russian governments was putting “obstacles and road blocks” on the way for the OSCE. “This would undermine not only not only that effort to faithfully monitor those elections and provide a balanced report on those elections; it would undermine future efforts, because it would encourage other governments to try to impose similar restrictions on the OSCE’s election-monitoring capabilities,” he said. The OSCE ODIHR described Moscow’s accusations as “nonsense”.

But in general Washington tried not to play down Russia’s recent flurry of criticism against the United States largely accounting it for the electioneering rhetoric. A Kommersant source in the Bush administration said that after the election “Moscow is going to be more attentive to our attempts to preserve partner relations with Russia despite current disagreement.”

But Washington made it clear that even though it does not want to influence the OSCE in any way, the United States feels it is all right to keep on giving evaluations of the situation with the upcoming Russian election and the state of democratic rights in Russia. White House spokesman Dana Perino on Monday voiced U.S. President George Bush’s statement on the crackdown on opposition rallies in Russia last weekend. “I’m deeply about the detention of numerous human rights activists and political leaders who participated in peaceful rallies, in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Nazran,” the statement read. The U.S. president also called on Russian authorities to “free those who remain in detention”. In her comments on the president’s words Ms. Perino said that the United States feels its obligation to “help Russia back on that path to a stronger democracy”. Elsewhere, U.S. Department of States spokesman Sean McCormack advised Russia not to be afraid of multi-partisan democracy.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have entered the stage of a trial with the upcoming Russian elections and the ensuring new configuration of power which may turn out to be a more severe test for the two countries than issues o missile defense, arms treaties and Kosovo.

Sergey Strokan

All the Article in Russian as of Nov. 28, 2007

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