updated 2/12/2007 8:52:55 PM ET 2007-02-13T01:52:55

Moscow has asked the United States for a clarification following remarks in which U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested that Russia’s future course is uncertain and lumped the nation together with Iran and North Korea, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

President Vladimir Putin lashed out at U.S. foreign policy over the weekend in comments that reflected a growing chill in ties between the former Cold War foes, who are at odds over issues ranging from U.S. military plans for Europe to the state of democracy in Russia.

Gates ruffled Russian feathers when he identified Russia as a potential threat, telling a U.S. House of Representatives committee meeting last week: “We don’t know what’s going to develop in places like Russia and China, in North Korea, in Iran and elsewhere.”

Russia has asked the United States to clarify whether the remark corresponds with the position of the U.S. administration, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The remark was among several by members of the U.S. military and intelligence community that “cause us bewilderment,” it said.

“It is hard to avoid the impression that all these statements are part of a certain system of negative evaluations of our country. The question is how much this reflects real U.S. policy,” the ministry said.

'Axis of evil' nations
Russian officials resent being juxtaposed with nations that President Bush included in his “axis of evil,” as well as what they took as a suggestion that Russia is an unpredictable wild card — part of the international security problem, rather than part of the solution.

The Foreign Ministry said Russia “proceeds from the assumption that relations between our countries are based on mutual interest in strengthening the strategic partnership.”

Putin and his backers often emphasize that Russia is more stable than during the uncertainty following the 1991 Soviet collapse, and say it is the United States that is making the world less secure.

In some of his harshest criticism of U.S. conduct on the world stage, Putin told a security conference in Germany on Saturday that the United States “has overstepped its national borders in every way.” He said the “almost uncontained ... use of force in international relations” by the United States is prompting nations to seek nuclear weapons and threatens to spark a new arms race.

The ministry said the Russian request was lodged with the U.S. ambassador. The embassy said it could not confirm the request was made.

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