Rice on Russia: 'We Are Determined to Deny Them Their Strategic Objective'

August 18, 2008 - 9:02 PM
Rice: NATO Won't Let Russia Succeed in Georgia
Brussels, Belgium - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that Russia is playing a "very dangerous game" with the U.S. and its allies and warned that NATO would not allow Moscow to win in Georgia, destabilize Europe or draw a new Iron Curtain through the continent.

But with no sign of Russia withdrawing its troops from Georgia despite a pledge to do so and indications it has moved short-range ballistic missiles into the disputed area of South Ossetia, it was unclear how the alliance would make good on Rice's vow.

On her way to an emergency NATO foreign ministers meeting on the crisis, Rice said the alliance would punish Russia for its invasion of Georgia and deny its ambitions by rebuilding and fully backing Georgia and other Eastern European democracies.

"We are determined to deny them their strategic objective," Rice told reporters aboard her plane, adding that any attempt to re-create the Cold War by drawing a "new line" through Europe and intimidating former Soviet republics and ex-satellite states would fail.

"We are not going to allow Russia to draw a new line at those states that are not yet integrated into the trans-Atlantic structures," she said, referring to Georgia and Ukraine, which have not yet joined NATO or the European Union but would like to.

Rice could not say what NATO would eventually decide to do to make its position clear but said the alliance would speak with one voice "to clearly indicate that we are not accepting a new line."

At the same time, she said that by flexing its military muscle in Georgia as well as elsewhere, including the resumption of Cold War-era strategic bomber patrols off the coast of Alaska, Russia was engaged in high-stakes brinksmanship that could backfire.

This "is a very dangerous game and perhaps one the Russians want to reconsider," Rice said of the flights that began again with frequency about six months ago. "This is not something that is just cost-free. Nobody needs Russian strategic aviation along America's coast."

At Tuesday's meeting, the NATO ministers will discuss support for a planned international monitoring mission in the region and a package of support to help Georgia rebuild infrastructure damaged in its devastating defeat at the hands of Russian armed forces.

They will also consider a range of upcoming activities planned with Russia from military exercises to ministerial meetings and decide case-by-case at the meeting Tuesday whether to go ahead or cancel each.

But how far NATO goes in curtailing relations with Moscow may depend on the situation on the ground as doubts remain about Russia's implementation of a EU-brokered peace plan. Russia had promised to start withdrawing forces from positions in Georgia on Monday, but has suggested troops could stay in South Ossetia, the breakaway region at the heart of the fighting.

Rice suggested that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who signed an EU-backed cease-fire brokered by the French, may be unable to exert power behind the scenes against his powerful predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, or the Russian military.

She said she thought the French would be seeking "an explanation from the Russians for why the Russian president either won't or can't keep his word."
"It didn't take that long for the Russian forces to get in and it really shouldn't take that long for them to get out," Rice said.

Russian troops and tanks have controlled a wide swath of Georgia for days. They also began a campaign to disable the Georgian military, destroying or carting away large caches of military equipment.

In Washington, military officials said they have seen no significant movement of Russian troops out of Georgia. They also said at least one Russian battalion with more than a dozen SS-21 missile launchers had moved into South Ossetia, within range of the Georgian capital.

That would allow Russia to pull out of Georgia proper as promised, but punish Tbilisi at any moment with the push of a button, as it will retain peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia.

In addition, Russia is blocking the deployment of up to 100 extra unarmed European military monitors to observe the cease-fire, according to an official at the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation, which is trying to organize the team.

The arrival of those monitors would end a special security mandate given to the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia that under the ceasefire allows them limited patrols on undisputed Georgian territory.

Meanwhile, Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, warned that an anti-Russian propaganda campaign could jeopardize existing security cooperation.

"We hope that tomorrow's decisions by NATO will be balanced and that responsible forces in the West will give up the total cynicism that has been so evident (which) is pushing us back to the Cold War era," he told reporters Monday.

Washington has denied Rogozin's claims that it is out to wreck the NATO-Russia Council a consultative panel set up in 2002 to improve relations between the former Cold War foes.

"We don't want to destroy the NATO-Russia Council, but Russia's actions have called into question the premise of the NATO-Russia relationship," U.S. Ambassador Kurt Volker said ahead of the NATO talks.

Jelinek reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Paul Ames contributed to this report from Brussels, Deb Riechmann from Crawford, Texas, and Lolita C. Baldor and Brett J. Blackledge from Washington.