Tuesday, May 10, 2005
President Bush and Vladimir Putin showed the world their friendship is stronger than their differences.
MOSCOW -- In a remarkable show of unity commemorating the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany six decades ago, President Bush stood alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday for a Red Square parade replete with symbols of Soviet-era power.
Russian soldiers goose-stepped past the reviewing stand and jets streaked red, white and blue contrails of Russia's tricolor overhead in homage to the World War II victory and the nearly 27 million Soviets killed in the war that reshaped the modern world and made allies into Cold War adversaries. Bush became the first U.S. president to attend such a large-scale event in Red Square.
The display of solidarity between Putin and Bush, who made his way to Moscow with a drumbeat of criticism for Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe after World War II, renewed Bush's claim to a close relationship with modern-day Russia and its leader. Yet Bush traveled Monday night to the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where he planned to return to a message that at times has irritated his Russian counterpart -- the drive for freedom and democracy worldwide.
For all his repeated demands that Russia adopt thorough democratic reforms, the carefully cultivated images of Bush and Putin walking side by side Monday and reviewing the marching and singing military procession at Moscow's Victory Day parade could not be clearer.
It is the same image that the two leaders presented when Putin handed Bush the keys to his restored 1956 Russian Volga sedan the night before at the Russian president's birch-shrouded dacha, the American fumbling with the gearshift on the steering column and Putin gamely reaching over to lend Bush a hand.
"This meeting has demonstrated once again that for the two presidents there are no forbidden topics," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who weeks before had formally protested Bush's meeting with Baltic presidents before arrival in Russia.
"They have shown the readiness, and they are actually discussing everything in an open, friendly and partnerlike manner," Lavrov said.
The Bush administration is satisfied that it has made its case for the advance of democracy in Europe, while bolstering the Bush-Putin relationship. Dan Bartlett, a senior adviser to Bush, said Monday "the relationship between the two enables them to talk about these issues without recrimination."
In the neighboring Baltic states -- where two of the three presidents boycotted Russia's Victory Day parade -- Bush had made a point of repeatedly, publicly criticizing "oppressive" Soviet occupation of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania after World War II. Bush supported the Baltic call for Russia to renounce its postwar history.
Bush also had been careful to call on the Baltic states to heed an issue of great concern to Russia, the treatment of Russian ethnic minorities in the former Soviet states.
But by the time Bush reached Moscow, a senior administration official said after the meeting between Bush and Putin, the question of Russia renouncing its past no longer was an issue between the two. The U.S. position had been clearly stated.
"The president did talk to President Putin about the visit in Latvia, and talked about his speech," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said.
"The views expressed by the Russian side, not only President Putin but other officials, is that there were some things that they liked about it, some things that they had . . . sort of more questions about," Hadley said. "But, in balance, I think their judgment is that it was a balanced speech, with some real positive elements."
Both leaders clearly have recognized that the differences between them, however sharp they may be, must be soft-pedaled in the interest of both nations, administration officials say. There was no point in pressing matters in Moscow, Hadley suggested.
"I think it's fair to say the Russians see the history a little bit differently, perhaps, than we do," Hadley said. "But the history that the president described in his speech in Latvia, there's really nothing new on the U.S. side."
Lavrov echoed Hadley's suggestion that Russians were receptive to Bush's words in the Baltic visit.
"We actually read the transcript of President Bush's speech in Riga," the Latvian capital, Lavrov said. "And actually, in that speech, a lot was said about the fact that democracy means not only elections, but a whole range of commitments and obligations to protect the rights of minorities."
As Bush concludes his five-day European tour today in Georgia, he will meet more leaders who stayed away from Moscow's Victory Day parade amid dispute over the timetable for removing Russian military bases from Georgia. The president will return to the theme he pressed in Latvia: the inexorable advance of freedom.
Embellishing his inaugural theme of "ending tyranny in the world," Bush has pledged U.S. support for free elections in Belarus -- which Bush has described as "the last dictatorship in Europe." And, following the December election in Ukraine that seated a pro-West leader, Bush has encouraged Russia to accept the emergence of democracies along its borders while embracing democratic reforms at home.