Rice: Russia Must Show Commitment to 'Basics of Democracy'

Russia needs to show a commitment to a free press and other "basics of democracy," and cooperate with former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine where democracy is taking hold, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) said Saturday.

Rice, moving quickly through Europe on her first trip as President Bush's chief diplomat, also said European diplomats seem eager to put in the past the estrangement caused by the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld (search) said as much after meeting with Rice in Warsaw. Poland was an early and durable participant in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. But the stationing of Polish troops there has proved unpopular at home and with Poland's neighbors.

"The unfortunate concept of old and new Europe is a total misunderstanding," Rotfeld said.

His comment was a reference to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's (search) distinction between opposition in France, Germany and elsewhere to the Bush administration's policy on Iraq and help provided by nations such as Poland.

The description of France and Germany as part of "old Europe" caused bad blood in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

Russia, also critical of the war, has retreated during President Vladimir Putin's (search) tenure from some of the democratic advances since the collapse of communist rule. Putin has consolidated economic and political power and clamped down on the press.

"We have concerns, and we've made it clear, about internal developments in Russia," Rice said in Poland.

"It is important that Russia make clear to the world that it is intent on strengthening the rule of law, strengthening the role of the independent judiciary, permitting a free and independent press to flourish," Rice said. "These are all the basics of democracy."

She said Russia is a valuable ally and partner in many areas, including the fight against terrorism and efforts to curtail the spread of nuclear arms.

"We've made no secret" of U.S. displeasure, Rice told reporters en route to Turkey. "But we're not going to stop working on it, we haven't stopped talking about it."

Rice's eight-day trip is focusing on European ties and the prospects for peace in the Middle East. An additional goal is laying the groundwork for Bush's summit meeting with Putin on Feb. 24 in Slovakia. That was one reason for her lengthy dinner meeting Saturday in Ankara with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The backsliding of democracy in Russia could become an irritant in Bush's second term and a sour note as the White House presses for expansion of liberty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Bush's inaugural speech last month contained what was perceived as a warning by some nations, including allies or partners with imperfect democratic credentials.

"We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right," Bush said.

"We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people," he said.

Rice said the United States had made its concerns clear to Russia even before that speech Jan. 20, and she reaffirmed that the address was not intended to represent a dramatic change in policy toward allies such as Saudi Arabia.

The United States wants to see Russia support "democratic processes elsewhere," including in its own backyard, Rice said. She said it is encouraging that after a rough start, Russia has reached out to the newly elected Ukrainian president and has improved ties with Georgia.

In Georgia, longtime leader Eduard Shevardnadze was forced from power by popular protests in late 2003, led in part by Zurab Zhvania, who became prime minister. After he was found dead Thursday following an apparent gas leak from a heater, the State Department said in a statement that he was "a catalyst for democratic change in Georgia, a dynamic leader and a friend."

The election in Ukraine strained U.S.-Russian relations as a result of Washington's refusal to recognize the fraud-tainted victory of a Kremlin-backed candidate. The Bush administration threw its support behind a Western-leaning reformer, Viktor Yushchenko, who won in a second round of voting.

Rice was traveling to Jerusalem for meetings Sunday with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. She also plans a major speech in Paris, a venue chosen in part to respond to French criticism of American foreign policy.

Anti-war protesters greeted Rice outside her hotel in Berlin on Friday night, and there were small demonstrations Saturday in Turkey against Rice, Bush and the war.

Strong anti-American sentiment continues in Turkey two years after the country angered Washington by refusing passage to U.S. troops going in Iraq. Turkish leaders also worry that the war could lead to the disintegration of neighboring Iraq and the creation of a Kurdish state in the northern areas.

That could embolden Kurds in southeastern Turkey, where the Turkish army has been battling Kurdish rebels since 1984. The fighting has left 37,000 dead.

"I'm here really in part to say to the Turks that we are fully committed, fully committed, to a unified Iraq," in which all political parties and ethnicities are represented, Rice said on the way to Ankara.

After meeting with Rice, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, "In terms of our strategic partnership, relations between Turkey and the United States are at a positive and mature point, and they will continue with the same maturity and in the same positive way."