MOSCOW -- President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday derided U.S. accusations that Russia was sliding into irrelevance, saying defiantly that 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 in a tough speech, 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,'" Medvedev 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 was 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 the limited the West's options are in responding to a newly assertive Kremlin.
Washington has resorted to harsh and repeated criticism. On Thursday, Rice accused the Kremlin of plunging a proud nation into global irrelevance with misguided and paranoid policies.
Medvedev responded in a speech to cultural and religious leaders, saying Russia would not yield to Western pressure and dismissing claims the country was 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," he said. "And we will determine what level is sufficient proceeding from the current situation; it can't be measured once and for all."
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 the Georgian military and pushing deep into Georgian territory.
Medvedev scorned Rice's comments that Washington would continue promoting cultural and professional exchanges for Russians wanting to visit the United States.
"I opened the Internet this morning and saw our American friends saying they will keep providing assistance to Russian teachers, doctors, scientists, labor leaders and judges," said Medvedev, a lawyer by training, raising a finger and shrugging his shoulders. "The last point was really outstanding. What does it mean? Are they going to feed our judges? Will they support corruption?
"If it goes on like that, they will start selecting presidents here," he said.
Later, in a 3-page formal response to Rice's speech, Russia's Foreign Ministry accused her of "gross misstatements" about the Georgian war, and echoed Medvedev's scorn for the offer to help Russian judges.
This, the ministry said, "is tantamount to interference in our judicial system."
"Responsible figures are not shy about acknowledging facts in their public statements. Why others do not do this, preferring instead to put their feet in their mouths, is a separate question," the ministry said.