American senators are calling on the Bush administration to toughen its position on the Russian government of Vladimir Putin, amid growing international concern about rights restrictions in Russia. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington, Russia has come under increasing scrutiny, amid a scandal involving the poisoning death in London of a former KGB spy.
U.S. lawmakers are urging Washington to take a harder line in its relations with Russia.
British authorities are continuing their investigation into the case of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who recently died in London from radioactive poisoning. Before his death, he said he was poisoned for his opposition to Russian President Putin, a claim the Kremlin denies. Britain's home secretary has said he is confident he will get the needed cooperation from Moscow in the widening investigation.
Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, speaking on Fox News Sunday, stopped short of endorsing Litvinenko's accusation. Although Mr. Putin denies the charges, the American lawmaker said he still believes the Russian leader is taking Russia in the wrong direction.
"Well, I don't know whether he [Putin] was involved, but our relations with Russia have to get straightened out to begin with," said Joseph Biden. "Russia is moving more and more toward an oligarchy here. Putin is consolidating power."
Biden, who is the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committe, added that he believes the United States should have what he described as a "direct confrontation" with Mr. Putin. He opposed threatening to immediately kick Russia out of the G-8 group of industrialized nations, but said that as long as Mr. Putin stays on his current course, Moscow's membership should be reviewed.
"I would consider laying down markers about whether or not, as he [Putin] continues to consolidate power, within that economy and within that country, whether or not he warrants continued membership," he said. "I would raise it, and I would do it privately. I wouldn't make this a public confrontation."
In 2001, President Bush spoke warmly about Mr. Putin after their first meeting, saying he had looked into the Russian leader's soul, and was confident the two were on the same side.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, took issue with the president's comment.
"I think Bush misread his soul," said Lindsey Graham. "I think this guy is taking Russia backward. He's a problem, not a solution, to most of the world's problems. He could help us with Iran, if he chose to. He is becoming, basically, a one-man dictatorship in Russia and we need to be tough with him."
Senator Graham, who also appeared on Fox News Sunday, said Russia needs to be a constructive part of the international community. He urged the international community to speak with one voice to tell Moscow it is moving backward, not forward, toward that goal.