U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the Russian government to reinforce the independence of its courts, its parliament and its media.
Rice said that democratic reforms would strengthen Russia and improve relations with the United States.
"We want Russia to be strong strong in 21st-century terms, not just with a strong independent center, but with strong independent institutions, an independent judiciary and legislature and independent civil society with a free media and vibrant non-governmental sector," she said.
The speech, at the opening of a conference on U.S.-Soviet history during part of the Cold War, comes at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions and concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin is consolidating power in the central government. Russia has objected to U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and has bristled over U.S. criticisms of its human rights record.
But Rice, who has an academic background in Soviet studies, rejected comparisons between today's relations and those of the Cold War.
"I visited the Soviet Union. I studied in the Soviet Union, and I will tell you that Russia is not the Soviet Union," she said.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969