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Russia Report: July 2, 2007


Follow all of RFE/RL's in-depth coverage of the Kennebunkport summit and its aftermath.

Russian Media Guarded On Bush-Putin Summit Prospects

Will the two leaders see eye-to-eye in Maine?

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."

Allies Or Adversaries?
"I think there was too much euphoria, too much of an inclination to declare that Russia was a democracy," former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told RFE/RL. more
Confused Or Cunning?
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

Confrontation With The West Plays Well In Russia

Andrei Piontkovsky (file photo)

July 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke with Russian political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, about the July 1-2 summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

RFE/RL: Putin's trip to the United States comes in the wake of several pointed foreign-policy moves from Russia's leadership in a variety of areas. It almost seems as if Moscow is intentionally trying to agitate Washington on the eve of the summit. Do you agree with this?

Andrei Piontkovsky: This all began rather earlier -- with Putin's speech in Munich. And it reached a crescendo with the comparison of the United States and the Third Reich on Victory Day. It is true, though, that official Moscow later backed away from that. But, yes, this is what is called the aggressive style of Russian diplomacy. Moscow is intentionally creating a confrontation with the West -- partially as a result of its own psychological complexes and partly for domestic consumption. The image of the West as the enemy is the only instrument for legitimizing the authorities -- who have no ideology -- and attracting voters to it.

"There won't be any progress, but there won't be a major collapse either. After Putin compared the United States to the Third Reich, any meeting that passes without such comparisons is going to seem like a success."

RFE/RL: Does Washington understand the reasons for Moscow's harsh rhetoric?

Piontkovsky: In official circles there is a sense of confusion. They don't understand what is behind the psychological attacks. And the format of the visit -- an invitation to the Bush family estate -- seems like an effort to somehow talk over and dispel this misunderstanding in an informal, even friendly atmosphere.

RFE/RL: Do you think they'll manage this?

Piontkovsky: I don't think so. A significant portion of the Russian political class is invested in this confrontation with the West -- at least in the virtual sphere of ideology and propaganda. There is a sense of euphoria in Moscow -- first, euphoria over their own power, a flexing of Russia's oil-and-gas muscle, and, second, euphoria over the weakness of the West, particularly the United States, which is obvious. The United States is bogged down in Iraq and has many foreign-policy problems. But Moscow is influenced by the rather strange combination of a long-standing inferiority complex and, at the same time, a complex of megalomania.

RFE/RL: If you were a foreign-policy adviser to the U.S. president, what would you say?

Piontkovsky: The thing is that relations with Russia do not lie at the center of American politics and Washington isn't so much looking for strong moves as for any move. However, I would try seriously to draw Russia into a joint missile-defense project. What Putin has offered is just a propaganda step, as if to say: "Ahh, you don't want to abandon your radar in the Czech Republic and Poland after our Azerbaijan proposal, so that means your sneaky intentions toward Russia are clear." It is necessary to somehow draw the Russian security and foreign-policy community into a serious discussion of these matters. Because all experts understand that the U.S. missile-defense proposals definitely do not pose any danger to Russia's deterrence capabilities.

RFE/RL: Do you think there might be some progress on one of the controversial questions of U.S.-Russian relations -- like Kosovo or missile defense or something else -- just to hold up to journalists and pundits after the meeting? Or is Putin just not interested in having anything to show?

Piontkovsky: There won't be any progress, but there won't be a major collapse either. After Putin compared the United States to the Third Reich, any meeting that passes without such comparisons is going to seem like a success. I think that they will create some kind of working group on missile defense.

In addition, there is one matter that Moscow is very interested in where Washington might compromise to create the illusion of success. That is cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear power. Moscow needs an agreement for legal reasons because without it, they cannot realize the plan that was announced four years ago to import spent nuclear fuel. Taiwan and South Korea, the main potential clients for Russia in this dirty business, cannot export their spent fuel without the agreement of Russia and the United States, because the fuel originally came from the United States.

Bush Looks To His Legacy
Wellesley College professor emeritus Marshall Goldman tells RFE/RL that Bush is seeking to avoid the legacy of "losing Russia." more
The 'Myth' Of A Great Friendship
Former "Financial Times" Moscow correspondent David Satter tells RFE/RL that the relationship between Putin and Bush is "the imitation of friendship." more

Journalist Says Bush-Putin Friendship 'A Myth'

Will friendship overcome all obstacles? Not likely, according to David Satter (file photo)

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- As the July 1-2 summit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush approaches, RFE/RL Washington correspondent Vladimir Abarinov asks former "Financial Times" Moscow correspondent and author David Satter what he believes will be accomplished at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport.

RFE/RL: What do you think will be the main topics of discussion when Presidents Bush and Putin meet in Kennebunkport?

David Satter: Well, the agenda is likely to consist of two questions. One is the American radar in Eastern Europe -- the radar and antimissile installation in Eastern Europe. And the other is the question of Russia's relations with Iran. And it doesn't appear that there will be progress from the American point of view on either of those questions, because [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov has said that Iran is not a threat and they (Russia) will restart their cooperation with the Iranians concerning the Bushehr nuclear-power station, on the one hand.

And the United States is unlikely to agree to Russia's suggestion that the U.S. share the Qabala radar station in Azerbaijan. So it doesn't appear that, at least as far as these two questions are concerned, there is very much that can be done. Unfortunately, from my point of view, the United States is not going to raise the question of Russia's overall behavior and the general growth of authoritarianism in Russia.

So, as a result, the best I think that can come out of all this -- or the most that can come out of this -- I would say, is some type of anodyne communique in which the sides say that they had a frank exchange and will consult further on various questions.

RFE/RL: Do you think President Putin is aware that his country is increasingly being perceived by the West as undemocratic and authoritarian?

Satter: Very much so. I think that people are becoming more and more realistic about what Russia is, and the Russian authorities have no one but themselves to blame. For example, they have refused -- they have made it clear that they don't intend to comply with the request from Great Britain to extradite Andrei Lugovoi.

And there's no move to put him on trial in Russia itself, although there is talk that they are going to have a trial in absentia of Boris Berezovsky. Things like that, even if people don't know all the details, create the impression that this is a country which does not consider itself to be bound by any rules -- either ethical or legal -- and of course that makes an impression on people.

RFE/RL: Will the personal relationship between Bush and Putin facilitate the finding of common ground on some of the issues on which Russia and the United States disagree?

Satter: Well I don't believe their leaders are close. I think that this so-called friendship is just a myth. This is a device of manipulation that the Russian side uses to limit the options and freedom of speech of the American side.

It's ridiculous when the head of state says, as Putin said, that in reaction to the United States' plans to install an antimissile system in Eastern Europe 'a friend would not behave that way.' This is clearly an attempt to use Bush's susceptibility and his (Putin's) illusion that a personal relationship can take the place of a more serious consideration of the national interest against Bush.

So, I think that the Russian side knows perfectly well that there is no true friendship. What there is is the imitation of friendship which is used -- and rather unskillfully -- to prevent the American side from expressing itself fully and, in certain circumstances, is used as a device for trying to influence the American position.

RFE/RL: Will the presence of former President George Bush, father of George W. Bush, at the Bush family estate have a positive influence on the talks?

Satter: I'm not sure if he has any more influence with the Russian side than the younger Bush. After all, the younger Bush is supposed to be Putin's great friend, so he should be able to influence him. And if he can't influence him, why is it that we can expect his father to do so.

I think that the only thing that will really influence the Russians side, and help to resolve some of the problems in U.S.-Russian relations, is the ability of the United States to speak frankly about the real situation in the world and the real situation in Russia.

And, in this respect, it's important not to take the Russian demands and claims too seriously -- and to indicate to the Russians that we understand that there's an element of theater.

Bush Looks To His Legacy
Wellesley College professor emeritus Marshall Goldman tells RFE/RL that Bush is seeking to avoid the legacy of "losing Russia." more
Confrontation Plays Well In Russia
Russian political scientist Andrei Piontkovsky tells RFE/RL that Russia suffers from inferiority and megalomanical complexes. more

Bush Doesn't Want Legacy Of 'Losing' Russia

Putin (left) with Bush in Germany in June

July 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, are due to gather today for a two-day summit at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. One person who will be watching the dynamics between the two outgoing presidents with interest is Marshall Goldman, professor emeritus of Russian economics at Wellesley College in the U.S. state of Massachusetts and the author of an upcoming book on Putin’s energy policy. Goldman spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Yury Zhigalkin.

RFE/RL: What are your expectations for the summit?

Marshall Goldman: I don't have high expectations, because I think the issues that now separate the two countries can't be settled in two days, even if it's a nice, informal, warm two days between the two leaders. I think it's just too difficult at this point.

I think if it's at all possible to do anything like this, the setting in Kennebunkport will probably be the best. It'll be informal. Given the size of the Bush home there, it's impossible to have large amounts of staff at their beck and call. President George W. Bush's mother will be there making popcorn; they'll go swimming to see who can take the cold in the Maine water. So I think this is an enormous gesture by President Bush.

"In a conversation I had with President Bush just a year ago, he clearly was looking toward his legacy, what people will think of the Bush-2 administration 20 years down the road. He asked us that specific question, basically -- to go back and think of things that he could do, initiatives that he might take, that would make people look favorably upon this period."

RFE/RL: So what can Bush expect to receive in return for this gesture?

Goldman: As a minimum, a cooling of the rhetoric between both countries, and to see if, simply by force of their personalities, they can simply tell their bureaucracies, "OK, we have to work these things out." Whether it be agreeing on a radar system in Azerbaijan or getting the United States to withdraw its commitment to install the radar in the Czech Republic and the missiles in Poland. I mean -- there are some things that the leaders can do arbitrarily. It would be losing face, to some extent, and maybe that's what you have to do.

Who would have thought that [U.S. President Ronald] Reagan and [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev could reach some of the issues they agreed to? You had two very strong ideological opponents, so of course there was ideology. In this case, there's no ideology; it's just national pride and assertiveness. But it may come to nothing. I don't want to say that on Tuesday [July 3] we'll wake up and discover it's a brand new world. I don't want to give credit to either leader, necessarily, but where I do give credit to both of them -- and particularly to President Bush, who took the initiative -- is that they at least want to make a good try, to make an effort. And I can't think of a better way to have done it. I must confess, it was nothing I would have thought of. This goes way beyond the normal bounds of diplomacy.

RFE/RL: One of Bush's major issues with Russia right now is the hostility of its rhetoric. And yet, the more Moscow uses it, the more unpopular Russia becomes. So why would Bush bother fighting it?

Goldman: Well, it's true. Russia has made some very serious mistakes here. But in a conversation I had with President Bush just a year ago, he clearly was looking toward his legacy, what people will think of the Bush-2 administration 20 years down the road. He asked us that specific question, basically -- to go back and think of things that he could do, initiatives that he might take, that would make people look favorably upon this period. He sees that his term is coming to an end, and I think the last thing he wants is to say, "Well, I came in when Russian-American relations were pretty good -- not perfect, but pretty good -- and I'm leaving when Russian-American relations are almost as bad as they were during the Cold War." I think that's one thing he thinks he can counter, given his personal relationship he's built up with President Putin. And I think he wants to make that effort.

RFE/RL: Did Bush misjudge Putin when he famously observed he had looked into the Russian president's soul and seemingly found a man he could trust?

Goldman: It's a fair criticism. I think that statement was mainly intended to build a bond between the two leaders, of the sort that I just tried to describe. It had to do with that, and of course it also had to do with the born-again nature of President Bush, his embracing Christianity again after a period he himself describes as having gone wayward, and seeing that maybe this is what President Putin had too, and feeling that if you had two firm believers that they could work things out that might not otherwise be possible. And again, I think this is one of the things that he's going to do.

RFE/RL: Some say Bush lost Russia by supporting Putin, who proved the opposite of what he expected.

Goldman: What I think Bush is trying to do is to make one last effort to show that, indeed, he can deal with Putin and that, indeed, he has not lost Russia. I think that Bush recognizes that if he doesn't make this extra effort, that's indeed what people will say: "Bush came in with Russian relations pretty good and left with Russian relations pretty bad. You, President George W. Bush, lost Russia." I think he wants to avoid exactly that kind of criticism by doing this kind of thing. I think that's what motivates his efforts.

RFE/RL: Under these circumstances, how likely is it that Bush will emphasize the issue of human rights in Russia?

Goldman: I think he has to. Otherwise, President Bush loses his credibility within the United States. So this is really trying to square a circle. He's got to make these criticisms -- otherwise he loses his credibility here in the United States. And he's got to convince Putin to go easy on some of these things, which will cause Putin to lose his credibility within Russia. That's what makes this meeting such an intriguing one. "At least let's try to see if we can work some of these impossible differences out." And by saying they're impossible... I mean, maybe Hercules couldn't do, maybe Reagan and Gorbachev couldn't do it. But I think Putin and Bush both want to give it one good effort.

Confrontation Plays Well In Russia
Russian political scientist Andrei Piontkovsky tells RFE/RL that Moscow suffers from both an inferiority complex and a megalomanical complex. more
The 'Myth' Of A Great Friendship
Former "Financial Times" Moscow correspondent David Satter tells RFE/RL that the relationship between Putin and Bush is "the imitation of friendship." more

Region Eyes U.S.-Russian Relationship As Bush-Putin Summit Looms

By Brian Whitmore

Former Soviet countries prefer warm relations

June 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- When Russia sneezes, the old saying goes, all its neighbors catch a cold. So what happens when Russia and the United States sneeze together?

When the presidents of the United States and Russia meet, the whole world tends to watch. Nowhere is this more true than in the former Soviet Union, where the relations between Washington and Moscow have an enormous impact. How are the countries of the ex-USSR looking at the upcoming summit between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin?

U.S. President George W. Bush is due to host his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1 and 2.

The informal summit -- which is being held at the prestigious albeit casual venue of the Bush family's summer home -- is widely viewed as an effort to mend fences at a time when relations between Moscow and Washington have sunk to a post-Cold War low.

The two presidents are slated to discuss issues ranging from Kosovo's final status, to a proposed missile-defense system in Europe, to Iran's nuclear program.

But regardless of what is on the agenda, the countries of the former Soviet Union -- from authoritarian Belarus, to oil-rich Azerbaijan, to Western-leaning Georgia -- will be paying close attention.

Washington and Moscow exert so much influence on the region, and the state of their relations have such an impact, that any U.S.-Russian presidential summit is impossible to ignore.

'Yalta Syndrome'

Georgia, for example, which is seeking to join the West and escape from Moscow's sphere of influence, tends to view any significant warming trend in U.S.-Russian relations with extreme trepidation.

Some call it the Yalta Syndrome -- a fear on the part of small countries that their interests will be sacrificed on the altar of great-power politics, as many believe those of Eastern Europe were after World War II.

Alexander Rondeli, president of the Tbilisi-based Georgian Foundation For International Studies, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that if there are tensions in U.S.-Russian relations it is not very good for Georgia.

Some call it the Yalta Syndrome -- a fear on the part of small countries that their interests will be sacrificed on the altar of great-power politics

"For a small country it is not good to be on the front lines of a war. We don't have the military or political resources to resist," Rondeli said. "But it is also bad for us when they have good relations. We know from our own experience that when the United States and Russia have warm relations, our interests get neglected or ignored. The best thing for us is when their relations are neither too good nor too bad. This gives a small country like us the space to maneuver."

Georgia's pro-Western leaders are trying to steer the country into NATO and are counting on the United States to help get them into the Western alliance. Georgia also wants Washington to put its diplomatic muscle behind its efforts to bring the pro-Moscow separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Tbilisi's control.

And analysts like Rondeli say Georgia's leaders worry that Tbilisi's interests are always in danger of becoming bargaining chips between Moscow and Washington.

Other former Soviet countries, however, particularly those trying to steer a middle course between Russia and the West, hope U.S.-Russian relations are as close as possible.

Georgia's neighbors in the South Caucasus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, for example, do not share Tbilisi's apprehension about close U.S.-Russian ties.


Armenia, which prides itself on maintaining good relations with both Washington and Moscow -- and getting as much as possible from both parties, sees its interests best served by a close and warm U.S.-Russian relationship.

Aram Abramian, a political commentator and editor in chief of the Yerevan-based daily newspaper "Aravot," said Armenia's leadership is governed by the principle of "complementary-ism."

Kennebunkport gets ready (AFP)

"A crude way to put this is that we take money from the West and take weapons from Russia and have good relations with both Russia and the West. Its a bit cynical but in my opinion this is how it is," Abramian said.

Azerbaijan likewise favors good relations between Washington and Moscow -- as long as the United States is the dominant partner.

Vafa Guluzade, a Baku-based political analyst who was an adviser to former Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev, said it is in the interests of Azerbaijan to have a close Russian-American relationship.

"In these relations, the leading role belongs to the United States, not to Russia. But if there will be difficulties in Russian-American relations it means that Russia is stronger and Russia wants to be more independent. And this independence of Russia will be very bad for former Soviet republics and newly independent states," Guluzade said.

Azerbaijan would like to see the United States and Russia more intensely engaged on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Central Asia

The countries of Central Asia, likewise, are trying to gain as much as possible from both Moscow and Washington.

Mathew Clements, the Eurasia editor in the Country Risk Department for Jane's Information Group, says the region would suffer if U.S.-Russian relations deteriorated further.

"Russia is likely to use this to put more pressure on the United States to withdraw its base from Kyrgyzstan and to reduce American influence in the region. And this is going to reduce the amount of aid, obviously, in security and also various other development projects that America can give to these countries," Clements said.

"Now a lot of Central Asian states have followed a multivectoral policy to try to bring in as much support from as many countries as possible, and this is going to be reduced."

In authoritarian Belarus, analysts say the country's leaders have a more nuanced view.

Officially, the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka supports whatever line the Kremlin takes toward the West and the United States.

But analysts say the Belarusian president and his inner circle believe their interests are best served when U.S.-Russian relations are hostile. This is because Lukashenka's once-cozy ties with Russia are rapidly deteriorating and the Belarusian leader understands that he would be a more valuable ally for Moscow in an atmosphere of bad East-West relations.

What isn't discussed at meetings of U.S. and Russian presidents is often as important as what is discussed. Opposition figures in Russia, Belarus, and elsewhere often lament that issues like human rights and democracy take a back seat to larger geopolitical considerations.

Russia's opposition leaders say that by treating Putin as an equal partner despite his backsliding on democracy at home, Bush is giving Putin international democratic legitimacy he does not deserve.

Garry Kasparov, leader of the opposition group Other Russia, told RFE/RL that Bush needs to speak the truth.

"Democrats don't recognize double standards. If he speaks truthfully about the situation in Russia, Bush will not damage the situation. We are not asking for any help for ourselves. We are asking for an end to this de facto unspoken, informal support for Putin," Kasparov said.

"It is clear that receiving him at his personal ranch -- that is support. In one way or another, these are the contacts that allow Putin to strengthen his domestic position in Russia and demonstrate that he is a full-fledged partner of the president of the United States of America."

(RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL's Georgian Service Director David Kakabadze, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report)

Tallinn 'Wants Russia To Get Along With Democratic Countries'

President Ilves (left) speaking to President Bush on June 25

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in Washington to discuss cyber security and Russia with U.S. President George W. Bush, spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher about U.S.-Estonian relations and the upcoming Bush-Putin face-to-face in Maine.

RFE/RL: What do you think Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin might discuss at their Maine summit?

Toomas Hendrik Ilves: Well, I'm sure they will discuss Kosovo. I'm sure they'll discuss Iran, I mean they're such self-evident issues that -- but I mean other than that I don't think I can really speculate on what the outcome of the discussions will be.

RFE/RL: Do you think the summit will result in any meaningful agreements?

Ilves: Depends on what comes out of it. I mean, there are summits that produce nothing; there are summits that produce all kinds of agreements. I can't predict.

RFE/RL: Do you think it's important that Bush and Putin meet now, given the animosity that has sprung up in recent months?

Ilves: I'd say Estonia is a country in whose interest it is that Russia enjoys good relations with democratic countries. It's obviously important. We want Russia to be able to get along with democratic countries.

RFE/RL: Do you agree with comments made by Russian opposition politician Garry Kasparov that, by inviting Putin to the Bush family compound, Bush is sending a signal that the U.S. stands with Putin, and not with dissidents and reformers who criticize his record on media freedom and democratic opposition?

Ilves: Not at all necessarily, I mean putting on for a second my sort of analytic cap -- I was an analyst at Radio Free Europe -- you could just as easily make the case saying by holding the meeting at Kennebunkport and not in Washington, you're considerably reducing the expectations for anything. I say that as an analyst, not as a president.

RFE/RL: Do you think there has been, or will be, a 'ripple effect' in the CIS region as a result of the chill in U.S. - Russian relations?

Ilves: No, I don't see that happening. I think that in fact the United States understands very well that its high support in Eastern Europe comes from its very strong defense of democracy. If there's any ripple, it's the rippling that we've seen for the past several years in which a wave crests over Latvia, then a wave crests over Georgia, right now a wave has crested over Estonia.

Who will it crest over in the autumn? I mean I don't want to persist these sort of -- the wave metaphor, but I think that -- I don't see the United States backing off on support for democracies. It's been a consistent position of the United States for decades. The support that we enjoyed from the United States under both democratic and republican administrations is always based on support for democracy in our part of the world.

RFE/RL: What did you discuss during your June 25 meeting with U.S. President Bush?

Ilves: Well, I mean I would say that we had, given that we spent actually two hours in intensive discussions, [that] we discussed just about everything. Clearly I mean the visa issue is something which is a broader issue for the countries that -- this odd situation that has developed in which countries which are very strong allies of the United States, and they're involved in Iraq and then Afghanistan, their citizens have a more difficult time getting into the United States than countries that are not necessarily always the best allies of the United States.

And I think -- this is not a conceptually difficult issue for anybody, I think that it's not only the countries such as my own or Poland or that--where this is an issue, but I think that the president clearly understands, the Congress clearly understands, and it's really a matter of management of a bill in Congress for how long until it's resolved.

It may be a short time or it may be a longer time, but there is no political will anywhere to block this situation. On cyber tax, cyber security, well Estonia has -- wants to set up a NATO center of excellence, and we are glad that President Bush expressed his support for this, including U.S. participation, and the next step is to get moving with it. I just want to point out here that it's not merely a matter of sort of technological solutions, it's really much broader, dealing with legislation, because of what -- the kinds of things that Estonia faced then, that others have faced including the United States, in the attacks on the Department of Defense.

These are legal issues, I mean it's crime, and it's cross-border crime, which means that it's an international issue, and so that means it's something which we should be tackling in -- among the NATO countries and among the members of the European Union. Because it is crime, that's all, but I mean it's -- but my main point is that it's not simply a matter of coming up with clever computer solutions, it's also a matter of legislation in -- among the allies.

But clearly we also discussed all kinds of other issues, developments in Europe, the constitutional treaty, the developments in Russia, what's going on in Georgia, Ukraine. I mean it was a very broad-ranging discussion.

RFE/RL: What are some ways that the United States support Estonia?

Ilves: Well I think the support for freedom and democracy is not exactly a worldwide phenomenon it's a -- so that in fact we don't -- I mean having common values on those issues -- freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association, free and fair elections -- is not the dominant world view.

Estonia feels very strongly about these issues, the United States feels very strongly about these issues. The Estonians know that throughout the Cold War the U.S. was really the country leading the opposition to the occupation of Estonia, when many other countries, even countries today we consider allies, were perfectly happy to forget the issue, the United States was not, and so I think there is a very strong feeling among the Estonian public of positive feelings towards the U.S.

We also know that the U.S. was one of the main promoters of Estonian membership in NATO, again, this is not something we forget. And so -- of course it looks odd, you have a country of 300 million, have a country of 1.4 million, and go wow, they're so big, they're so different, but I don't think in the world that is as -- nearly as important as shared values and shared fundamental values.

RFE/RL: How do you think the Iraq war is going?

Ilves: Well it's difficult, I mean, we're there as well, we've been there since almost the beginning, and we're also in Afghanistan. We just lost two soldiers in Afghanistan this weekend, so we know what it's -- we know that this is not -- these are not easy issues.


An archive of RFE/RL's coverage of relations between Russia and the United States.