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U.S. Report Says Russia Is Not a Reliable Partner

WASHINGTON -- Russia's emergence as an increasingly authoritarian state could impair U.S.-Russian ability to cooperate on key international security issues, according to an analysis by a major U.S. foreign policy organization released on Sunday.

Continuation of Russia's drift away from democratic norms under President Vladimir Putin "will make it harder for the two sides to find common ground and harder to cooperate even when they do," said the report, which was issued by the Council on Foreign Relations.

It warned that some critical problems cannot be dealt with effectively unless Moscow and Washington cooperate.

"If Russia remains on an authoritarian course, U.S.-Russian relations will almost certainly continue to fall short of their potential," it said.

The report was co-chaired by Jack Kemp, a former Republican presidential candidate, and John Edwards, the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2004. Kemp formerly served in the House, Edwards in the Senate.

Release of the report was timed to coincide with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to Washington, his first as foreign minister. He is due to arrive Monday and will meet the next day with President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The report urged that the United States preserve and expand cooperation on dealing with the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program and on coping with the risk of Russian nuclear materials falling into the wrong hands.

On the whole, though, the report said relations were headed in the wrong direction.

"In particular, Russia's relations with other post-Soviet states have become a source of significantly heightened U.S.-Russian friction," it said.

It urged that Washington counter Russian pressures that undermine the "stability and independence" of its neighbors by helping to secure the success of those states that "want to make the leap into the European mainstream."

The report was especially critical of the Kremlin's energy export policy, accusing it of turning "a prized asset of economic relations into a potential tool of political intimidation."

Ukraine, it said, "has been the most shocking and coercive application of this view to date, but others may lie ahead."

The report recommended that the United States go beyond mere expressions of concern about the rollback of Russian democracy. It urged that Washington step up support for organizations committed to free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

"Russia's course will not -- must not -- be set by foreigners, but the United States and its allies cannot be indifferent to the legitimacy of this process and to the leaders it produces," the report said.

Among many setbacks to Russian democracy in recent years, the subordination of the judiciary to executive power received particular importance in the study.

"Under President Putin, power has been centralized and pluralism reduced in every single area of politics. As a result, Russia is left only with the trappings of democratic rule -- their form, but not their content," the report said.

Lavrov, speaking to U.S. journalists in Moscow ahead of his trip, called for "clear and honest" relations. He implied U.S. officials had aired the two countries' problems through the media instead of using quiet diplomatic channels.

"We can't believe in official, public diplomacy when some concerns are flagged throughout the media, very often without proper justification, very often based on wrong assumptions," Lavrov said Friday, speaking in fluent English.

He did not specify which media reports he was referring to, but may have been responding to U.S. newspaper reports last week that said the White House was "recalibrating" its policy toward Moscow due to concerns that Russia's democratic institutions had been weakened by Putin.

Lavrov said that "direct dialogue, a clear and honest raising of concerns and the receiving of clear and honest answers is ... something the state of modern Russian-American relations deserves."

(The Moscow Times 06.iii.06)

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