MOSCOW, November 17 (RIA Novosti) - The appointment of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as the United States' new Secretary of State has come as no surprise to Russian lawmakers.

"Her appointment in lieu of Colin Powell stands to reason. This replacement is an expected and predictable one," Mikhail Margelov, Chair of the International Relations Committee in the Federation Council, or Russia's upper house of parliament, said in a RIA interview. He noted that Ms. Rice had been a long-time player on the U.S. political scene, and described her as knowledgeable, competent, highly experienced, and tough.

Margelov said he and his colleagues had known Ms Rice for quite a while and that she enjoyed good personal connections in Russia's political and academic circles. He expects the new State Secretary to take a hard-edged approach to diplomacy, including in relations with Russia. Ms Rice's academic experience at Stanford University and the circles in which she runs give analysts every reason to predict that detractors of Russia will be among those she will approach for professional advice, he pointed out. Whether or not she will follow their advice remains to be seen.

Margelov does not think the Senate will give Ms Rice an easy ride. Given the Republican majority, her nomination is bound to be confirmed, but she will hardly be able to escape a barrage of criticism from the Democratic camp.

Margelov does not rule out the possibility of a new turn in Ms Rice's career some time soon. If the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will probably have to resign at some point and Ms. Rice may then be chosen to replace him, he said. Speculating about who will in this case take over as Secretary of State, the Russian MP said that a Democratic candidate, such as Sam Nunn, seemed a likely pick to him.

Fellow MP Vasily Likhachev described President George W. Bush's appointment of Ms Rice as a "powerful step." This is a person the President really trusts and whose professional advice he heeds, Likhachev explained. In his view, Russia stands to gain from the appointment as Ms Rice will likely make this country one of the U.S. key foreign policy priorities.

Likhachev argues that Russia would be better off dealing with hard-line politicians than with ones who say one thing and do another. In his judgement, Ms Rice is a pragmatist, she is well aware of U.S. priorities, and realizes only too well that Russia is a strategic partner to the United States. The Russian MP believes Ms Rice has now got much more supporters than opponents in the U.S. Senate and that there is therefore absolutely no doubt that the legislature will endorse her candidacy.

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