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Rice Calls Consolidation of Power by Russian President 'Troubling'


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday the concentration of political power in the Kremlin under Russian President Vladimir Putin is "troubling," though adding that Washington and Moscow are working together well on some major world issues. Rice goes to Moscow next week for talks laying groundwork for next month's G-8 summit in Germany. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The secretary of state is due in Moscow in the middle of next week for two days of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and probably also President Putin, on a bilateral relationship she describes as "complicated."

At a Senate hearing on the Bush administration's $40 billion foreign affairs budget for the coming year, Rice said the two former Cold War adversaries are cooperating well on some major strategic issues, including efforts to curb the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

However, she said recent years have been "difficult" in other areas, including what she said is an inability by Moscow to fully accept the idea of good relations between the United States and newly democratic states of the former Soviet Union, like Georgia and Ukraine.

Rice said the roll-back of democratic reforms in Russia, and the reconcentration of powers in the Kremlin, is troubling and a matter of concern not only for the United States.

"I think it's fair to say there has been a turning back from some of the reforms that led to the de-centralization of power out of the Kremlin: a strong legislature, a strong free press, an independent judiciary," she said. "And I think everybody around the world, in Europe, in the United States, is very concerned about the internal course that Russia has taken in recent years."

Rice said one of the advantages of the strong personal relationship President Bush has forged with his Russian counterpart is that he can raise such concerns with Mr. Putin and discuss them.

She spoke shortly after a Thursday morning telephone conversation between the two leaders, who will have a meeting on the sidelines of the three-day G-8 summit opening June 6 at a Baltic resort in northern Germany.

White House and Kremlin spokesmen said the two presidents discussed the Rice Moscow visit and summit preparations as well as a variety of global issues.

Officials here say Rice's agenda in Moscow will cover the "full gamut" of issues, including democracy in Russia, the future status of Kosovo, the situation in Darfur, and Russian objections to U.S. plans to put elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

On another matter, State Department officials say the Russian government has told U.S. diplomats that President Putin was not referring to the United States when he said Wednesday that the world faced new threats like those posed by Hitler's Third Reich.

The Russian leader's mention, at a World War II victory event, of forces operating by Nazi-like "diktat" and "claims of exceptionalism" was widely reported in the news media as a slap against unilateralism in U.S. foreign policy.

However, a senior diplomat here said the U.S. embassy raised the matter with the Kremlin and was told that no link to the United States was implied or intended, and that U.S. officials "take them at their word."