Condoleezza Rice praises Putin's choice

Condoleezza Rice highly praised Vladimir Putin's choice to support Dmitry Medvedev as his successor. The U.S. Secretary of State said, though, that Russia was not giving political opposition a fair chance in elections.

Mrs. Rice also stated in an interview released Wednesday that the U.S. administration asked Russia to be constructive in the Balkans despite its disagreement about whether Kosovo should be recognized as independent of Serbia.

Speaking about Putin's successor, Rice said that she believes that Dmitry Medvedev, 42, is an intelligent man representing a younger generation of Russians.

"He is somebody who has had responsibility for some kind of interesting programs in Russia, which is essentially trying to diversify the economy and a lot of work with the regions on efforts to wire the country with the internet and a variety of things like that," she said in an interview with the USA Today conducted Tuesday.

But she said that the U.S. remains concerned that Russia is stifling political opposition.

"I would hope that the time will come when Russia is going into a presidential election where there is a realistic chance for a really contested election," she said. "I think that, to me, is the biggest problem with this."

On Kosovo, she said that she hoped that Russia could play a constructive role as Kosovo moves toward independence.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations, backed by NATO troops, since the alliance's 1999 bombing campaign to end a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Washington has repeatedly signaled that it is ready to recognize Kosovo's split from Serbia, raising the likelihood of a showdown with Russia, a close Serbian ally, which is expected to block any endorsement of Kosovo's independence when the U.N. Security Council takes up the issue on Dec. 19.

"I hope that the Russians are as committed as we are to a stable outcome in the Balkans and to being constructive in the Balkans," she said. "But the fact of the matter is Kosovo and Serbia are never going to be one again, and that's the reality."

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