U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney says the Russian government is "unfairly and improperly" restricting its citizens' human rights, and he has warned Moscow not to use its oil and gas wealth to blackmail other states.
Mr. Cheney was speaking Thursday in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, at a conference of Baltic and Black Sea states. The American vice president says the policies of those who are "opponents of democracy" in Russia could affect the Kremlin's relations with other countries.
Mr. Cheney criticized Russia's decision to cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine earlier this year, during a pricing dispute. He said no one gains when oil and gas are used for "manipulation or blackmail."
The U.S. vice president says the Bush administration will make it clear that Russia has nothing to fear and everything to gain from having strong and stable democracies on its borders.
President Bush is to meet Russia's leader, President Vladimir Putin, in St. Petersburg in mid-July during the annual summit meeting of the Group of Eight nations.
Mr. Cheney's visit to Lithuania is part of a six-day tour of former Soviet bloc states to promote democratic reforms. The vice president is visiting Kazakhstan and Croatia later this week.Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.