Cheney: Russia Strong-Arms Other Countries with Oil and Gas

Speaking at a conference of central and eastern European leaders in Vilnius, Lithuania, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday lamented Russia's use of its oil and gas resources as an instrument of coercion.

"America and all of Europe also want to see Russia in the category of healthy, vibrant democracies," said Cheney. "Yet in Russia today, opponents of reform are seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade." He noted that the Russian government has "unfairly and improperly" curbed the rights of religious groups, journalists, advocacy groups, and political parties.

Cheney added that other actions by Moscow, including those influencing Russia's energy industry, have been "counterproductive." He pointed out that such moves could impede Russia's relations with other countries. "No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation," he said.

In a recent case, state-run Gazprom had on multiple occasions threatened to shut off Ukraine's gas supply in an effort to demand higher prices. Earlier this year, it followed through on its threat. The supply disruption adversely affected Ukraine as well as other countries in Europe.

"None of us believes that Russia is fated to become an enemy," continued Cheney, adding that the world's leading industrialized countries will urge Moscow to embrace democratic reform at the upcoming Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg. "We will make the case, clearly and confidently, that Russia has nothing to fear and everything to gain from having strong, stable democracies on its borders, and that by aligning with the West, Russia joins all of us on a course to prosperity and greatness," said the vice president.