Chance: A chill between Cold War foes
CNN's Matthew Chance
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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney is in Eastern Europe, where he angered Russian officials with a speech that accused President Vladimir Putin of backsliding on democracy and trying to intimidate its neighbors.
CNN's Matthew Chance discussed the latest tensions.
CHANCE: The cold war may be over, but its feeling distinctly chilly between Moscow and Washington these days.
U.S. Vice President Cheney's stinging rebuke of Kremlin backsliding on democracy and using energy resources to blackmail its neighbors is the strongest language in years from any U.S. official about Russia. (Watch Cheney accuse Russia of intimidating its neighbors -- 2:11)
Moscow's response was swift and indignant. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov quickly denounced the comments as "highly subjective" and "completely incomprehensible."
Of the reference to the tactics of Russian firms, he said: "It seems when we're talking about U.S. or British energy companies, it's considered business, but when it is us it's intimidation."
Russian politicians present and past entered the fray. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was outraged. "Cheney's speech looks like a provocation and interference in Russia's internal affairs in terms of its content, form and place," he told the Interfax news agency.
The media dwelt on how the speech may have some hidden motive. Rossiya TV, a state channel, broadcast a prominent pro-Kremlin analyst, Vyacheslav Nikonov, saying the United States "obviously" wanted to "pressure" Russia into supporting its position on Iran.
Several media said the remarks were aimed at "spoiling" the G8 summit in July, and preventing a "triumphant" outcome for Russia.
Others have interpreted the statements as an attempt to counter Russia resurgence as a global power.
Only when Russia "stopped wallowing" and "became stronger and started to speak" did the United States notice its divergence from democracy, said the Isvestiya newspaper.
The official daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta seethed with anger at what it sees as a patronizing lecture from the U.S. superpower.
"We are being asked to deny ourselves and take orders from those who know better and will decide everything for us," it said.
Russia and many Russians remain deeply suspicious of Washington's motives in the former Soviet Union. The popular belief, and at times the official position, is that the West is unfairly encroaching on Russia's traditional sphere, to weaken Russia's influence.
Indeed, there is a strategic game underway. On Russia's Western flank, NATO and the European Union are expanding. In Central Asia, the great powers compete for influence to crucial resources.
All this is true, and the source of countless conspiracy theories in Russia. Are Dick Cheney's comments part of this game? Maybe. Or maybe he just thinks Russia is a country that has backslid on democracy and used vast energy resources to blackmail its neighbors.
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