A speech by US Vice-President Dick Cheney strongly critical of the Kremlin marks the start of a new Cold War that could drive Moscow away from its newly-found Western allies, the Russian press said on Friday.
In shocked reaction to the harshest US criticism of Moscow for years, commentators said Washington had created an anti-Russian cordon of Western-aligned states stretching from the Baltic almost to the Caspian Sea.
The Kremlin, in a reaction within hours of Cheney's delivery in Vilnius, said the speech, which was full of accusations that Moscow was limiting human rights and using its energy riches to blackmail the world, was "completely incomprehensible."
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declined to comment directly on Friday when asked about Cheney, but said the meeting of former Soviet allies that the vice-president had addressed appeared to be "united against someone."
The Russian press agreed, comparing Cheney's words to a 1946 speech by British statesman Winston Churchill in Fulton, Missouri, when he said Europe was divided by an "Iron Curtain."
"Enemy at the Gates. Dick Cheney made a Fulton speech in Vilnius," said business daily Kommersant's front page headline.
"US Vice-President Dick Cheney made a keynote speech on relations between the West and Russia in which he practically established the start of the second Cold War ... The Cold War has restarted, only now the front lines have shifted," it said.
Washington and Moscow have largely ignored differences since the hijacked airliner attacks on US buildings on September 11, 2001 and concentrated on joint interests in the fight against international militant groups. But ties between the former rivals have cooled recently.
Cheney's harsh criticism injected fresh tension that is likely to be still felt when Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts US President George W. Bush and other world leaders at a summit of the G8 club of rich nations in St. Petersburg in July.
Commentators said the speech was an answer to Russia's new self-confidence, which has stemmed from high oil prices and a shortage of energy supplies giving it new influence.
Cheney was addressing a group of former Soviet states and allies including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova which have been turning towards the West.
Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP), Russia's top-selling daily, showed what the meeting meant to Moscow by colouring in the states that met in Vilnius to show a purple cordon separating Russia from the rest of Europe.
Reaching for another historical analogy, it compared the meeting to that between the anti-Nazi allies Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin in the Soviet town of Yalta in 1945, at which they divided up the map of Europe.
"Yesterday in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, like in Yalta in 1945, the map of Europe was redrawn," KP said, raising the spectre of Russia being isolated from the mainstream.
"What can Russia do? It would appear it will have to strengthen ties with Belarus and Central Asia. And get close to China, to balance this Western might."
Commentators said Russia was being expected to knuckle under and follow the US lead.
"At the same time, Moscow's partners are not prepared to sacrifice anything, keeping their "correct" patriotism and their own policies," said official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta in a lengthy commentary.
Source: China Daily