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U.S. VP Cheney accuses Russia of using “blunt force”

September 6, 2008

By Guy Dinmore and John Thornhill in Cernobbio, Italy, Financial Times, London, UK, Sep 6 2008

Dick Cheney, the US vice president, broadened his attack on Russia late on Saturday, directly challenging Vladimir Putin’s view of history and warning that his government could “not have it both ways” by using “brute force” and still hoping to build economic progress. Mr Cheney saved his toughest anti-Russian speech for the last leg of his tour of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Italy.
His unequivocal rhetoric contrasted with the more moderate remarks of José Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission who goes to Moscow on Monday with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, to try to get Russia to abide by the ceasefire agreement it signed after invading Georgia last month.

Addressing the global Ambrosetti conference near Lake Como, Mr Cheney said that within a 30-day period Russia had violated the sovereignty of a democratic country, breached a ceasefire agreement with the EU, seriously damaged its international standing and undermined its relations with the US.

The Bush administration’s most hawkish member widened his list of Moscow’s alleged misdeeds by also accusing it of selling advanced weapons to Syria and Iran. Arms sold to Damascus had been channelled to Lebanon and Iraq, Mr Cheney said.  His comments come at a delicate moment of diplomacy between Europe and Syria with Mr Sarkozy in Damascus just two days earlier.

Mr Cheney also got personal, quoting Mr Putin, the Russian prime minister, as calling the end of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. He then added: “Let me give you my opinion. The demise of the Soviet Union was inevitable and the greatest forward step for liberty in the last 60 years.”

He went on to say that the Russian people deserved freedom and prosperity. He warned: “The Russian leaders cannot have it both ways” – enjoying the benefits of commerce and prestige while engaging in brute force.

Concern was intensifying over Russia’s “larger objectives”, Mr Cheney said, noting its “intimidation” of Ukraine and the Baltic states, and a threat of attack on Poland for agreeing to accept US missile defence systems directed toward Iran.
Mr Cheney warned Europe over the dangers of its over-reliance on Russia as an energy supplier. He also challenged European partners in Nato over their reluctance to extend membership for Georgia and Ukraine, saying the “time has come” to start MAP, the membership action plan.

Business leaders and politicians attending the conference had expected an uncompromising assault by Mr Cheney. But some said it only highlighted a sense of exasperation by a departing administration that had failed in its own diplomacy toward Russia, and the acute differences between Washington and Europe.

Mr Barroso also appeared to want to diminish the role of the US in resolving the conflict in Georgia, telling the Financial Times: “The hope for peace is the EU.” “I’ve not seen any proposals coming from any parts of the world apart from the peace proposal put forward by president Sarkozy on behalf of the EU,” he said.

Speaking later to reporters, Mr Barroso said: “We are interested in having constructive relations with Russia. It is important to note what we need. We need cool heads, not a cold war and this is the basic message.”
Mr Barroso also urged Russia to respect the Sarkozy peace plan it had signed. Responding to Russia’s unilateral recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Mr Barroso noted that article six of the plan provided for diplomatic discussions over their status.

Moscow has said it will withdraw its forces from a “buffer zone” it has established in Georgia only after international peacekeepers are in place and the government of Georgia has signed non-aggression pacts with the two regions.
LINK: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/21949b02-7c38-11dd-a25c-000077b07658.html

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