US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Moscow yesterday for meetings amid growing Russia-US tensions underlined by Russian President Vladimir Putin's increasing criticism of the US administration.
Washington's relations with Moscow are troubled by sharp disagreements on specific issues -- especially the US proposal to place elements of a missile defense system in former Soviet satellite countries -- and by a clear rise in the Kremlin's suspicion of US intentions worldwide.
Russian officials bristle at US criticism of a perceived Kremlin rollback of democracy and complain that Washington is interfering in the country's internal affairs by funding pro-democracy groups. Russia also accuses the US of trying to dominate international affairs.
In an address on the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, Putin last week denounced "disrespect for human life, claims to global exclusiveness and dictate, just as it was in the time of the Third Reich." He did not mention a country by name, but analysts saw the US as the clear target.
Along with missile defense and democracy, issues likely to come up in Rice's meetings include Russia's resistance to a US-backed draft UN resolution supporting independence for Kosovo, Putin's call for a moratorium on observing the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, and Russia's increasing control of oil and natural gas supplies that are critical to Western European countries.
Despite the tensions and the emotionally fraught rhetoric, Washington and Moscow have tried to emphasize areas of common concern and cooperation including the international fight against terrorism and increasing cooperation on securing nuclear facilities.
"On many things, we have done very well, but the fact is that on some others it's been a difficult period," Rice said of Russian-US relations last week.
The assessment was echoed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak.
"Russia and the United States have many issues that we either cooperate on, or that we need to review our positions on," the news agency RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying in an interview. "We are expecting a serious discussion on serious problems, both from the perspective of our own security and of European security."
That statement indicated the US missile-defense plans will be at the top of the agenda. The US wants to deploy elements of the system in Poland and the Czech Republic, saying the system is aimed at responding to possible missile assaults by countries such as Iran and North Korea.
Russia dismisses the prospect of such attacks and says the new system would undermine the global balance of security.
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