Medvedev blasts Rice's comments on ‘irrelevance'

President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday derided U.S. accusations that Russia is sliding into irrelevance, saying Moscow would set its own course without isolating itself behind a new Iron Curtain.

One day after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a blistering attack on the Kremlin leadership, Medvedev pushed back, saying NATO and the Bush administration were provoking Russia.

“All the time the talk is that ‘look, finally they are showing their true faces, the regime is revealing its true colors, finally the side that is more characteristic for the Russia state has triumphed. The hawks have won,'” he said in a Kremlin speech.

“In fact we are being pushed down a path of development that is based not on full-fledged, civilized cooperation with other countries, but on autonomous development behind thick walls, behind an Iron Curtain,” he said.

“This is not our path,” he said. “There is no point in returning to the past. We have made our choice.”

Russia put the West on notice last month with its brief war with Georgia that it is willing to throw its economic and military weight around to assert its interests, particularly in the former Soviet Union.

The war has also shown how limited the West's options are in responding. Washington has resorted to harsh, repeated criticism. On Thursday, Rice accused the Kremlin of plunging a proud nation into global irrelevance with misguided and paranoid policies.

Medvedev's speech to cultural and religious leaders asserted Russia will not yield to Western pressure and dismissed claims it is sliding back to authoritarianism.

“No new outside factors, let alone outside pressure on Russia, will change our strategic course,” Medvedev said. “We will continuously strengthen our national security, modernize the military and increase our defense capability to a sufficient level.”

Underscoring that effort, Russia's lower house of parliament – dominated by a Kremlin-backed political party – gave tentative backing Friday to a 25 percent increase in defense spending.

Medvedev accused NATO of provoking the war in Georgia, saying that by helping modernize the Georgian military, Washington and other Western nations encouraged Georgia to try to regain control over its breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Russia responded to the offensive by invading Georgia, routing its military and pushing deep into its territory.