U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has defended his criticism of Russia as a country that is backsliding on democracy and using energy reserves to threaten its neighbors. Speaking after a meeting with Balkan leaders in Croatia, Cheney said it was important to have an open, honest dialogue with Moscow.

Wrapping up a five-day tour of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Vice President Cheney described his remarks that Russia was reversing democratic reforms as measured in tone.

He told reporters flying with him from Croatia, that he wanted an "open, honest and frank discussion," and stressed that "nobody wants to see Russia as an enemy."

But some Russian media said the vice president's criticism has created "a second Cold War."

They referred to Cheney's comments to Baltic and Black Sea heads of state in Vilnius last Thursday that Russia's President Vladimir Putin was backsliding on democracy and using energy reserves as blackmail to gain political leverage in neighboring countries.

"Russia has a choice to make," said Dick Cheney. "And there is no question that a return to democratic reform in Russia will generate further success for its people and greater respect among fellow nation[s]."

On Sunday, Cheney urged Moscow not to fear political and economic progress in countries under its shadow.

Speaking at a meeting with leaders of Croatia, Albania and Macedonia in Dubrovnik, he praised them for supporting US-led military operations in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, despite political opposition at home. He said the three Balkan states have proven their willingness to meet international obligations, and said they should be able to join NATO and the EU as soon as possible.

He stressed their entry in these organizations would revive democratic values in the Balkans.

"It is very important both for NATO and the EU to take in new members," he said. "People who aspire to join the organization, help rejuvenate it, and to help us re-dedicate ourselves to the basic and fundamental values of freedom and democracy that are a very important part of our collective security arrangements."

The summit in Dubrovnik ended the vice president's five-day trip to Lithuania, Kazakhstan and Croatia aimed at what he said was advancing President Bush's "freedom agenda."