Rice Slams Russia, Says Georgia Actions 'Premeditated'

Washington's relations with Russia have fallen far and fast since President Bush famously declared in 2001 that he had looked into then-President Vladimir Putin's eyes and "was able to get a sense of his soul."

The deterioration of Russo-U.S. relations came to a head today in a speech by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in which she criticized Russia's foreign policy as overly "aggressive" and its domestic policy as "increasingly authoritarian."

Rice declared that, as a result of Russia's recent actions, its desire to join the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development were "now in question." Rice stopped short of announcing publicly an American block on Russian membership.

Senior administration officials tell ABC News, however, that the United States will not allow Russian membership in those international organizations.

Rice made no mention in her remarks of veiled threats made last month to kick Russia out of the G8, a group of the world's wealthiest nations.

In an address to the German Marshall Fund in Washington, Rice bluntly outlined the Bush administration's qualms with Russia and the U.S. response, saying, "Our strategic goal now is to make it clear to Russia's leaders that their choices are putting Russia on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance."

"Russia's leaders are making some unfortunate choices. But they can make different ones," she continued. "But its choices will be shaped, in part by the actions of the United States, our friends, and our allies -- both the incentives we provide and the pressure we apply."

The United States also recently shelved a civil nuclear cooperation deal with Russia in response to Russia's actions in Georgia, where Moscow has resisted calls for the removal of Russian troops from undisputed Georgian territory.

"What is more disturbing about Russia's actions is that they fit into a worsening pattern of behavior over several years," Rice said.

She slammed Moscow for "intimidation of its sovereign neighbors, its use of oil and gas as a political weapon, its unilateral suspension of the CFE Treaty [the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe], its threat to target peaceful nations with nuclear weapons, its arms sales to states and groups that threaten international security and its persecution and worse, of Russian journalists and dissidents, and others."

Rice used her speech to level a stinging accusation, that Russia had planned its August invasion of Georgia for several months.

Though she faulted Georgia for taking the bait, she said that "Russia's leaders used this as a pretext to launch what, by all appearances, was a premeditated invasion of its independent neighbor. Indeed, Russia's leaders had laid the groundwork for this scenario months ago."

Last month Georgia responded with force to attacks from separatist militias in the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Several Russian peacekeepers, in place for more than a decade, were killed in the fighting. Almost immediately Russian tanks and troops marched into the region and pushed on into undisputed Georgian territory.

The Russian move drew quick condemnation from the United States and its allies in Europe. Today Rice said Russia's actions in Georgia "crystallized the course that Russia's leaders are taking."

Russia's attacks on Georgia were interpreted by experts as an attempt to head off the possibility of Georgia joining NATO, a military alliance that pointed its guns at Moscow during the Cold War but since the Berlin Wall fell insists its mission is focused elsewhere.

Georgia and Ukraine were to be considered for membership at a NATO meeting in December. The United States has publicly supported membership for those countries.

Today Rice offered Ukraine a public lifeline amid concerns that it might be targeted next by Moscow.

"We will resist any Russian attempt to consign sovereign nations and free peoples to some archaic 'sphere of influence,'" Rice said. "We will not allow Russia to wield a veto power over the future of our Euro-Atlantic community -- neither what states we offer membership, nor the choice of those states toad accept it. We have made this particularly clear to our friends in Ukraine."

Rice also faulted Moscow for what she described as an unwillingness to seek common ground with Washington despite differences of opinion.

"The United Stats has consulted Russia's leaders. We have searched for common ground. And we have sought, as best we could, to take Russian interests and ideas into account," Rice said. "Increasingly, Russia's leaders have not fully reciprocated."

"Are we engaged in a new Cold War? No, we are not," Rice said.

Rice was also critical of Russia's new president, Dmitri Medvedev, seen by Western observers as a puppet for Putin who now serves as prime minister.

"Perhaps the worst fallout of all for Moscow is that its behavior has fundamentally called into question whose vision of Russia's future is really guiding the country. There was a time recently when the new president of Russia laid out a positive and forward-looking vision of his nation's future," she said.

"This was a vision that called for strengthening of the rule of law, rooting out corruption, investing in Russia's people and creating opportunities," Rice said. Instead she asserted that Russia has "taken a dark turn."

In an effort to illustrate what the United States portrays as Moscow's international isolation, Rice took a swipe at Russia's decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two Georgian breakaway provinces.

"Russia has found little support for its actions. A pat on the back from [Nicaraguan President] Daniel Ortega and Hamas is hardly a diplomatic triumph," she said.

She also chided Russia for sending bombers to Venezuela, a move meant as a show of force in the Western Hemisphere and solidarity with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"Anachronistic Russian displays of military power will not turn back the tide of history," Rice said. "But we are confident that our ties with our neighbors -- who long for better education, better health care, better jobs and better housing -- will in no way be diminished by a few, aging Blackjack bombers, visiting one of Latin America's few autocracies."

Rice, an expert in Russian relations who also served in President George H.W. Bush's White House as a Soviet expert in the waning days of the Cold War, concluded her remarks with a plea for the next president.

"I sincerely hope the next president and the next secretary of state will visit Russia, will take time to speak with Russian civil society and will give interviews to Russia's diminished but enduring independent media," she said.