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Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM



To Russia, Cheney speaks the truth

Vice President Dick Cheney was right to use strong words reminiscent of the Cold War to warn Russia about its faltering democracy and its relations with other nations.

Cheney was not speaking out of turn when he said "there is no place in a Europe whole and free for a regime of this kind." Cheney fired off the missive last week in Lithuania at a conference about European democracy. The staging ground was strategic. Because of Lithuania's Soviet communist past, and its democratic future, the conference was sure to draw the attention of the Kremlin.

While promoting democracy in the Middle East and Asia, the Bush administration has been woefully weak until now in its denunciations of the Kremlin's march toward autocracy.

Vladimir Putin's presidency has been marked by aggressive attacks on the democratic framework built after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia's governors are now appointed by Putin, laws have been passed to blunt nongovernmental organizations, the press is hardly independent, and potential political foes of Putin have been jailed.

Russian aggression has not been limited to its democracy. Earlier this year, the state-controlled energy company, Gazprom, shut off the flow of natural gas to Ukraine after a pricing and political squabble between the two nations. That's a worrisome prospect for Europe, which relies on Russia for an increasingly hefty portion of its natural gas.

Cheney's warning is also timely, coming a couple of months before the Group of Eight summit, which Russia is hosting in St. Petersburg.

The Kremlin should implement the Bush administration suggestions to foster democracy and regional stability — such as allowing independent monitors to observe elections and guaranteeing supplies of energy to neighboring nations — before the G-8. The United States should apply pressure during and after the summit if Russia chooses a defensive crouch.

Bush has treated Putin as a close friend. Russia is too important a nation to treat as a friend.

Russia must be respected, but must also know that it has a more important role to play as a stable democracy willing to act in the global community instead of as a bully.

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