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President Putin Responds to Cheney Critique

In his state of the nation speech Wednesday, President Putin addressed Vice President Cheney's criticisms of Russia's recent record on human rights and democracy as well as other domestic concerns. Two experts discuss the reactions to the exchange of criticisms and the increasing tensions between the two countries.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    In his seventh national address since taking office, Russian President Vladimir Putin today responded to new U.S. criticism and defended Russian strength.

    VLADIMIR PUTIN, President of Russia (through translator): In absolute figures, Russia's defense spending is half of those countries, and there is no comparison whatsoever to that of the United States of America, whose military budget, in absolute figures, is almost 25 times as high as that of Russia.

    This is what is described in the defense sphere as "Their home is their fortress." Good for them. Good for them. This also means that we should be making our own home stronger and more reliable because we see what is happening around the world.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Vice President Cheney offered the Bush administration's sharpest criticism of Russia last week, accusing Putin of backsliding on democratic ideals within and outside its borders.

    RICHARD CHENEY, Vice President of the United States: Other actions by the Russian government have been counterproductive and could begin to affect relations with other countries.

    No legitimate interests is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation. And no one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In his speech today, Putin did not respond to the vice president by name, but he did suggest that the escalating U.S. Criticism is driven by its own self-interest.

  • VLADIMIR PUTIN (through translator):

    Comrade Wolf, so to speak, knows whom to eat. It eats without listening and is clearly not going to listen to anyone.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Russian media criticized Cheney for faulting Putin on democracy while using the same trip to visit oil-rich Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic.

  • RICHARD CHENEY:

    And America has tremendous confidence in your future as a successful, independent, sovereign and prosperous nation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Kazakhstan's president was overwhelmingly elected last December in a vote the State Department later said fell short of a number of international standards.

    Putin's address today was the latest in a series of events that have rattled U.S.-Russia relations. They've eroded since 2001, when Mr. Bush said he could get a sense of Mr. Putin's soul.

    In April, the Kremlin cracked down on private groups advocating human rights and democracy. In the midst of one of Europe's coldest winters, the Russian energy company Gazprom cut supplies running through Ukraine to the West.

    Russian leaders opposed the U.S. by defending the recent reelection of the dictatorial leader of Belarus. And this week at the United Nations, Russia has joined with China to resist efforts to chide Iran for enriching uranium.

    Now on the horizon, a meeting of the group of eight industrial nations planned for July in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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