Pentagon Chief Slams Russia But Plays Down Threat

BLENHEIM PALACE, England -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has accused Russia of "mauling and menacing small democracies" but said it did not pose a threat to the world like the Soviet Union.

Gates also said Russia's action in Georgia was a Pyrrhic victory -- costing Moscow far more in the long term than any short-term gains it achieved.

"The Russian leadership might seek to exorcise past humiliations and aspire to recapture past glory along with past territory," Gates said Friday in a speech at Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill, near Oxford. "But mauling and menacing small democracies does not a great power make."

Gates' remarks came a day after a speech by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that was highly critical of Moscow. While Gates, a former CIA director who built his career on knowledge of Russia and the Soviet Union, echoed some of Rice's words, he also sought to put the conflict over Georgia in perspective.

"In reality, Russia's policies are born of a grievance-based desire to dominate its 'near abroad,' not an ideology-based effort to dominate the globe," he told a conference organized by the consulting firm Oxford Analytica.

"And Russia's current actions -- however egregious -- do not represent the existential and global threat that the Soviet Union represented," he said.

"I believe the Georgia incursion will, over time, be recognized as a Pyrrhic victory at best and a costly strategic overreach," he said.

He said Europe and Washington would help Georgia rebuild and make decisions in the months ahead that could affect a Russian bid for membership of the World Trade Organization.