"Russian arms-dealing has endangered the prospects for peace and freedom in the region (the Middle East)," US Vice President Dick Cheney said on Saturday.
Speaking at global conference of political and business leaders
in Cernobbio, Italy, Cheney lambasted Moscow's policies using pointedly harsh rhetoric.
"Russia has sold advanced weapons to the regimes in Syria and Iran. Some of the Russian weapons sold to Damascus have been channeled to terrorist fighters in Lebanon and Iraq," said Cheney.
The vice president later met in private with Israeli President Shimon Peres on the sidelines of the conference. Cheney added that Moscow was selling the arms to Iran and Syria knowing full-well it is intended for Hizbullah and the terror organizations in Iraq, Peres' aides said.
Talking by Italy's Lake Como
Peres also briefed Cheney on recent developments in the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. The two also discussed the Iranian nuclear threat, Hamas and the situation in Georgia. Cheney, who arrived at the conference fresh from a tour of Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Ukraine, told Peres that Washington was closely monitoring the crisis in the Caucasus and that Russian troops are still deployed in various regions in Georgia.
Peres warned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would continue to terrorize the region in the name of religious extremism. He stressed it was vital for the United States and Europe to create an alternative fuel source to oil, which he called "the leading funder of global terrorism and extremist leaders such as (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez and Ahmadinejad." Cheney said the world must stand as one against Iran's nuclear program.
Cheney slams Russian 'aggression'
"This chain of aggressive moves and diplomatic reversals has only intensified the concern that many have about Russia's larger objectives," Cheney told the conference in prepared remarks.
"For brutality against a neighbor is simply the latest in a succession of troublesome and unhelpful actions by the Russian government."
Russia has tried to "intimidate by threats and severe economic pressure" Ukraine, which along with Georgia, is seeking to join NATO, he said.
"At times it appears Russian policy is based upon the desire to impose its will on countries it once dominated, instead of any balanced assessment of security interests," Cheney said.
He noted that a senior Russian military official threatened Poland with attack over its involvement in the missile defense system. "That is no way for a responsible power to conduct itself," Cheney said.
"And it reflects the discredited notion that any country can claim an exclusive zone of authority, to be held
together by muscle and threats," he said.
"That is the old thinking," Cheney said. "The old ways are gone, and the Cold War is over."
Russia's leaders should consider whether "bullying others will turn out well for their country's future" and whether Moscow wants to "operate in the modern world as an outsider," he said.
"Russia's leaders cannot have things both ways," Cheney said. "They cannot presume to gather up all the benefits of commerce, consultation, and global prestige, while engaging in brute force, threats, or other forms of intimidation against sovereign countries."
Reuters contributed to this report