Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has put Russia on guard that the United States will not ignore any retreat by Moscow from democratic reforms.
During a visit that sent a chill through relations Rice declared that Putin had too much power and she spoke out over the absence of independent television channels.
"Rice showed her teeth during talks in Moscow," read a caption in a Russian daily newspaper Thursday, beneath a photograph of a beaming Rice meeting President Vladimir Putin.
With plain speaking that left Russia's establishment aghast, she warned Wednesday that Washington was watching closely the fraud trial of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
"Up to now no American official has ever made such bold statements about the future of the Russian presidency," said the daily Kommersant, referring to her comment that Putin should not try to stay on in power for a third term.
The Kremlin kept silent at the sudden criticism, possibly since it fell at an awkward time for Putin.
The Kremlin leader is scheduled to make his annual State of the Nation speech next Monday, a moment when he sometimes seeks to define Russia's relations with the United States.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov equally failed to win a sympathetic ear from Rice when he called for the United States to recognize Russia's national interests on ex-Soviet territory.
Ignoring his call, Rice declared it was time for change in ex-Soviet Belarus -- seen by some analysts as the next ex-Soviet state after Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan where the old regime could fall to a popular revolution.
She said Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko ran "the last true dictatorship in the center of Europe." The row continued on Thursday in Lithuania where Lavrov said that Russia would not "advocate what some people call 'regime change' anywhere."
Based in London, we are an informal group dedicated to supporting democracy and human rights throughout
the former Soviet Union. Our aims are:
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