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Russia: Media Guarded On Bush-Putin Summit Prospects

Will the two leaders see eye-to-eye in Maine? (epa) June 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- For weeks, Russian media have looked forward to President Vladimir Putin's visit to the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1-2 as an opportunity for the Russian and U.S. leaders to hammer out their differences.

But whether Putin and George W. Bush will actually be able to accomplish anything at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, is debatable in the eyes of Russian media.

In an article published in the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on June 29, Andrei Terekhov commented that while "the president will be treated to traditional dishes of lobster and swordfish...the political menu looks set to be less enjoyable."

The two leaders will have many bones of contention on their plate. Key among them are Kosovo, missile defense, NATO expansion, and Iran -- issues that have been the source of much verbal sparring between the two countries.

Low Expectations

Kennebunkport has also widely been touted as the setting for the two to bring up Bush's criticism of Putin's interpretation of democracy and human rights, and Putin's talk of a new Cold War complete with its own arms race.

But Terekhov argued that Washington has "hastened to lower journalists' expectations as regards the summit in advance."

As has the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," which noted on June 29 that "regrettably, personal friendly relations between Bush and Putin will not in any way be transformed into American-Russian friendly relations."

While "the world is alarmed at the worsening of American-Russian relations," Izvestia continued, it "understands that they cannot be 'repaired' in two days."

However, the newspaper concluded, the world does want "proof that it can be done" and in that sense Kennebunkport can serve as a vehicle to "furnish the world with this proof."

The daily "Kommersant," specifically discussing the differences between the United States and Russia on independence for Kosovo, observed on June 25 that "the fact that the leaders are ready to take the responsibility for the decision does not necessarily mean it will be they who work it out."

Ultimately, "Kommersant" wrote, "the compromise will rather be found in the UN in New York," because "as long as neither Russian nor American diplomats have mutually acceptable suggestions, the presidents, in fact, have nothing to take responsibility for."

Searching For Compromise

In general, compromise -- on the issue of Kosovo and others -- is what the Russian media are looking for from Bush if the summit is to be considered successful.

A key compromise would pertain to U.S. plans to deploy parts of an antimissile shield in Central Europe, a proposal that has infuriated Russia and led Putin to offer the United States the opportunity to jointly use a radar base in Azerbaijan -- an offer that Bush said he would consider.

In an exclusive interview with ITAR-TASS on June 15, Russian presidential aide Igor Shuvalov said that on this issue Russia proceeds from the assumption that there will be a "constructive and positive dialogue" at the summit in which "both parties will be able to hear each other's arguments and find a compromise, a mutually acceptable solution."

Another Putin aide, Sergei Prikhodko, told Interfax on June 29 that "if they have the political will to cooperate in this [missile defense], then everything else is a matter of details."

Interfax also quoted Prikhodko as expressing Russia's concern over "unfounded criticism of Russia for allegedly moving away from democratic principles and norms." He said Moscow considers "such assessments to be biased and unfair, and we are ready for a serious dialogue on this issue" at the summit.

'The Real Putin'

Russian media and pundits have picked up that torch, attributing much of the disagreement between the United States and Russia to misunderstanding, stereotypes, or even ignorance on the part of U.S. politicians.

National Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovsky, writing in the business daily "Vedomosti" on June 14, argued that the recent Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany was notable in that Western leaders "began to work with the real Russian leader" and not the myth of the man.

The G8 leaders found, according to Belkovsky, that they were working not with an "imperialist from the Soviet and KGB mold" but with a "pragmatic businessman."

Belkovsky described Putin as "the most pro-Western ruler in Russian history, who is just sometimes forced to resort to anti-Western rhetoric to be liked more by his people and ensure medium-term stability for the current Kremlin regime."

Democratic Legacy

But ultimately, as the "first ruler in Russian history who is leaving the highest state position at the height of his power," Putin will basically be seeking to hone his legacy in Kennebunkport.

Putin with Navy cadets in St. Petersburg in June 2006 (epa)

"He simply needs guarantees that he will go in a nice and proud manner as a respected democratic leader," Belkovsky wrote, "not as an authoritarian kleptocrat pushed by hostile pressure."

The analyst wrote that the two leaders might "discuss security guarantees for Putin after he resigns from power, and the younger Bush will certainly do a wise thing if he promises these guarantees, acknowledging quite a great contribution made by his guest to the cause of ensuring global stability and fighting totalitarianism."

Terekhov also touched on the legacy issue in his June 29 "Nezavisimaya gazeta" article.

"The stakes -- the outgoing presidents' legacies -- are high," he wrote. "Whereas Putin goes to Kennebunkport in the knowledge that his second term is likely to be remembered for transformations inside Russia, right now it is foreign policy that is much more important for Bush, with the conflict in Iraq and instability in Afghanistan."

"Here," Terekhov concludes, "Russia can either help or harm him."

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Harvard Historian Richard Pipes argues that Putin's Russia is confused about its role in the world and, therefore, an unreliable partner for the United States. more

Moscow And Washington: Toe To Toe

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U.S. President George W. Bush (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit in Germany on June 7 (AFP)

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