Russia's Foreign Minister Rejects Cheney's Criticism

Russia's foreign minister on Saturday rejected Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of the Kremlin and said it won't derail Russia's cooperation with the West.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Cheney's criticism that the Kremlin was backtracking on democracy and using energy to blackmail its ex-Soviet neighbors was unfounded.

"We have heard comments like this from the mouths of a politicians of a lower rank, but the vice president of the United States probably should have information that in the last 40 years our country has not once — neither the Soviet Union nor Russia — violated a single contract for the supply of oil and gas abroad," Lavrov said in an acerbic statement on the ministry's Web site.

"Obviously this information somehow hasn't been brought to the vice president's attention," he said.

The statement was the most explicit Moscow response to Cheney's criticism, reflecting strong irritation in the Kremlin over the vice president's remarks Thursday in a speech in Lithuania to Eastern European leaders who govern in Russia's shadow.

Lavrov added that the criticism won't undermine Russia's intention to cooperate with the United States in solving global crises.

"I believe that such statements won't undermine efforts that we are making together with the United States, Europe and other leading nations to build a fair world without conflicts where all nations will be developing in conditions of stability and democracy," Lavrov said.

Russian media and analysts said Cheney's harsh criticism signaled the start of a new Cold War and called his speech a reprise of Winston Churchill's famous "Iron Curtain" speech, reflecting growing distrust between Washington and Moscow.

Lavrov dismissed Cheney's criticism of the Kremlin for cracking down on religious and political rights, saying that the government was working to consolidate the nation after the post-Soviet economic and political chaos. He also shrugged off Cheney's suggestion that Russia uses its energy reserves as "tools of intimidation or blackmail."

Cheney said Friday that he had merely described "the extent to which they seem to resist the development of strong democracies" in Eastern Europe. The vice president said that despite the diplomatic spat, he expects a meeting of the Group of Eight of leading industrialized nations to take place as scheduled in St. Petersburg this summer. "We'll all benefit from a free, open and honest exchange at that conference," he said.

"Democracy is necessary not only internally, but on the international arena," Lavrov said in an apparent critical reference to U.S. policies in global affairs.