WASHINGTON -- Citing troubling behavior by the Kremlin, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed skepticism yesterday about the future of democracy in Russia.
''We are very concerned, particularly about some of the elements of democratization that seem to be going in the wrong direction," Rice said.
Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, while on good terms personally with President Bush, has been criticized for centralizing political power and rolling back democratic gains.
Rice, appearing on CBS's ''Face the Nation," noted severe limits on nongovernmental organizations begun this year and Russia's use of energy as a weapon in a dispute with Ukraine this winter.
''I think the question is open as to where Russia's future development is going," Rice said.
Nothing can be gained by isolating Russia from institutions that demand democratic values from its members, she said.
Rice said the US and Russia cooperate in fighting terrorism, opposing Iran's efforts to restart its nuclear programs and on other areas.
''In general, I think that we have very good relations with Russia, probably the best relations that have been there for quite some time," she said.
Rice added that, in spite of concerns about democracy in Russia, ''This is not the Soviet Union. Let's not overstate the case."
Rice said she believes that Putin supports a more open Russia than existed at the center of the former Soviet Union.
Putin, as the leader of the Group of Eight nations, hosts a summit for heads of state in St. Petersburg in July. Some critics have questioned whether he should lead the organization because of the rollback of freedoms in Russia.
Other nations and human rights groups have expressed concern as the Putin-guided Kremlin has established control of parliament, ended popular elections for regional governors, placed new rules on political parties, and cut back on the independence of national media.
Russia and Ukraine feuded over natural gas prices, a battle that grew more bitter when Russia briefly turned off its gas supply to Ukraine and other parts of Europe. That heightened concerns that energy supplies were not secure for the continent.
An agreement reached earlier this month resolved the differences.
Putin upset Israel by inviting members of the militant group Hamas to talks in Moscow. Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the United States but not Russia, has refused to moderate its anti-Israel stance since winning Palestinian elections.
Rice said she has been assured that the Russians would continue to abide by the positions of the Mideast peace negotiators -- Russia, the United States, the European Union, the United Nations. They support a road map to peace as well as Israel's right to exist and the end to violence by Hamas.