“The picture emerging from this pattern of behavior is that of a Russia increasingly authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad,” Rice said in a speech to the German Marshall Fund in Washington.
“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,” Rice said, according to the Associated Press.
“We cannot afford to validate the prejudices that some Russian leaders seem to have: that if you pressure free nations enough — if you bully, and threaten, and lash out — we will cave in, and forget, and eventually concede,” she said.
Rice also vowed that the U.S. would not let diplomatic differences “obstruct a deepening relationship between the American and Russian people.”
The address was Rice’s first on Russian relations since the Russia-Georgia conflict emerged last month.
Diplomatic ties between Washington and Moscow have become increasingly strained as a result of the conflict over Georgia’s breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and Russia’s decision to recognize the disputed regions.
The U.S. and Europe must not allow Russian actions in Georgia to achieve any benefit, she said: “Not in Georgia. Not anywhere.”
Rice rejected a Russian “sphere of influence” over the region and said she hoped Russia leaders would “overcome their nostalgia for another time.”
Amid the tough rhetoric, analysts saw a broader message around how the U.S. and Europe have united in the face of Russian decision-making.
“The fear in August was that the Russians would get away with everything,” Sarah Mendelson, the director of the Human Rights and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the NewsHour Thursday in an interview.
“[Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin was betting that there wasn’t a united West – but the West is hanging together. It’s not as robust as some of us would like and the Russian government may still be able to take advantage. Still, Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia did more to bring the West together.”
Rice also lobbed barbs at Russia’s recent decision to engage in military exercises with U.S. foe Venezuela, hinting at an “aging” Russian military infrastructure.
“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” she said.
The speech pledged continued support for U.S.-allied Georgia, highlighting promises of economic aid by the United States and European countries.
“In contrast to Georgia’s position, Russia’s international standing is worse now than at any time since 1991,” she said. “And the cost of this self-inflicted isolation has been steep.”
“Now we’re in a new era of relations,” CSIS analyst Mendelson noted. “Neither the Cold War approach of containment, nor the post-Cold War approach of integrating Russia seems appropriate.”
In the speech, Rice also cast doubts on Russia’s place on the world economic stage. As Wall Street has reeled from major shifts in the U.S. financial sector, Russia has also faced market instability, deciding to shutter its stock markets for two straight days with the Kremlin pledging $20 billion in support when they reopen on Friday.
“If Russia ever wants to be more than just an energy supplier, its leaders have to recognize a hard truth: Russia depends on the world for its success, and it cannot change that,” Rice said.
Rice’s tough rhetoric may catch Moscow’s attention, but the impetuous will fall to both sides to ease diplomatic tensions, analysts say.
“The U.S. needs to be less emotional about how it forms its Russia policy,” Cliff Kupchan, Director for Europe and Eurasia at the Eurasia Group, told the NewsHour. “Both sides need to cool it. We can exact a toll on Russia without creating a schism in U.S.-Russian relations.”