Washington, 6 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The centerpiece of George W. Bush's four-nation trip will be his 9 May visit to Moscow, when he joins Russian President Vladimir Putin and more than 50 world leaders at a military parade in Red Square.
That event will occur between visits to Latvia and Georgia, the latter the first for a U.S. president. It is part of delicate diplomacy that seeks to balance a tribute to Russia's sacrifices in World War II with acknowledgment of decades of Soviet repression.
Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the president's itinerary is not calculated to send a message to Russia. But Bush, he said, plans a number of speeches dedicated to his second-term mission of spreading freedom and democracy.
"It's a tricky world out there. There are a lot of challenges the world over. [But the trip] is not tricky in this sense: that the president is going with a vision and a set of principles, and he's very clear about that vision and comfortable with those principles," Hadley said.
In Latvia and Georgia, Hadley said, Bush will outline what he calls a "broader concept" of freedom and democracy. He will emphasize the importance of protecting minorities and individual rights through rule of law and independent institutions. The president will reportedly urge Latvia to pay greater attention to the needs of its Russian minority. He is to call on Georgia to resolve conflicts with its pro-Russian separatist regions peacefully.
In Moscow, Bush will have brief bilateral talks with Putin. Like in other stops, Bush also will meet with human rights and civil society advocates. Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, have this year increasingly raised democratic reforms with the Kremlin. But the U.S. administration is facing some domestic calls to challenge Putin more.
U.S. Congressmen Tom Lantos, a Democrat, and Christopher Cox, from Bush's own Republican Party, this week reintroduced legislation calling for Russia's ouster from the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations. Putin is due to host the group next year, but Lantos told a congressional hearing yesterday that Russia now has no place in a group of leading democracies.
"Under President Putin, Russia has moved in a retrograde fashion -- free media no longer exists in the Soviet Union [sic], the rule of law is arbitrarily implemented in a singularly undemocratic fashion, and there are severe human rights violations in that country," Lantos said.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky told the same congressional panel that the administration is working steadily to try to improve Russian behavior in areas such as human rights. "In terms of the [G-8] proposal, all I can say is, at this time, the administration does feel that by engaging Russia, by being direct with Russia, that we hope to bring about changes in these areas," she said.
Hadley, the national security adviser, cited Putin's state-of-the-nation speech last month as a signal he can be engaged on democracy issues. Putin said the government's main task is to ensure the development of a democratic state with European ideals. But he stressed the country will move at its own pace.
"I think there are some hopeful passages in that speech whereby he made clear that Russians have opted for democracy and freedom as their future. And, of course, as Russia and as Putin move to implement and operationalize those principles, it will enhance the cause of peace and security in Europe, and also enhance the course of freedom both in Europe and abroad," Hadley said.
Bush is "trying to make a gesture that he isn't interested in seeing new walls built at new borders of Europe, even though we're celebrating the anniversary of the end of World War II and have really now a truly united Europe for the first time in centuries." - Glenn
Analysts say as important as engaging Russia is sending the right signals to its states in its "near abroad." Bush will meet the three Baltic presidents in Riga tomorrow and emphasize the strength of their alliance with the United States, in areas ranging from Iraq and Afghanistan to Belarus. In Georgia, he will meet President Mikheil Saakashvili and parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze.
John K. Glenn, director of foreign policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a policy institute that promotes trans-Atlantic cooperation, told RFE/RL that Bush's stops in Latvia and Georgia send a signal of his commitment to a wider democratizing Europe.
"He's trying to make a gesture that he isn't interested in seeing new walls built at new borders of Europe, even though we're celebrating the anniversary of the end of World War II and have really now a truly united Europe for the first time in centuries," Glenn said.
Nadia Diuk, director of Europe and Asia programs at the National Endowment for Democracy, says Bush's visit to Georgia on 9-10 May is a validation of the efforts of the reformist government that came to power last year. "To have an American president come visit is a sort of huge endorsement and support for the process that they've been through in the last year or two, which is through grassroots movement, pressing for free and fair elections," she said.
Diuk says Bush's Georgia visit is also full of symbolism for the other states of the South Caucasus and Central Asia which have been tainted by unfair elections and authoritarian rule.As the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, RFE/RL takes a look at that conflict's enduring legacies in its broadcast areas. See "World War II -- 60 Years After"