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Bush, Putin to Meet in Attempt to Ease Tensions

  • Peter Fedynsky

President Bush has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Bush family home this weekend in Kennebunkport, Maine. The meeting, in a secluded and relaxed oceanside setting is designed to reduce recent tensions between Russia and the United States. VOA Moscow correspondent Peter Fedynsky looks at the Russian perspective on chances for success in Kennebunkport.

Friday's edition of the Russian newspaper Izvestia devotes more than half a page not only to the Bush-Putin meeting, but also to the impact its location may have on the substance of the talks.

The article, complete with a color photograph of the Bush family home, quotes the first president Bush as saying former first lady Barbara Bush told her son, the current president, not to put his feet on the table.

That detail is used to suggest that the family home is neutral territory, unlike the Texas ranch of the American president or Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. Izvestia says those venues have "exhausted their positive image" just as U.S.-Russian relations have taken a negative turn.

Alexander Khramchekhyn, research director at Moscow's Institute for Political and Military Analysis, told the VOA that the two presidents hope to prevent further deterioration of ties.

Khramchekhyn says neither president, because of the personal connection, wants to completely spoil Russian-American ties. The analyst notes that until recently, personal relations between Presidents Bush and Putin were good.

A top priority on the Bush-Putin agenda is expected to be an American plan to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Washington says the system is designed to guard against a possible attack by Iran. The Kremlin says it threatens Russia's security. Alexander Khramchekhyn rejects such fears for now, but says the system could be converted later into an offensive instrument against Russia. The analyst also suspects that Kremlin leaders may be using the missile issue to maintain power.

Khramchekhyn says the issue is also a propaganda tool. In other words, we will stop talking about your missiles if you stop talking about our democracy.

And the democratization of Russia is a concern for Washington. Senior U.S. officials have highlighted Kremlin pressure on Russia's non-governmental organizations, as well as independent media and political parties.

Another issue likely to be discussed at Kennebunkport is Kosovo, the predominately ethnic Albanian province of Serbia. Washington supports a Western plan to grant supervised independence to Kosovo. Moscow, a traditional Serbian ally, is opposed. Some analysts say the Kremlin wants to avoid setting a precedent of internationally-supervised independence, which some of Russia's independence-minded regions could demand.

Whether any of these issues will be resolved in Kennebunkport is uncertain. Izvestia says the meeting is planned not so much to resolve problems, but to lower the tension around them. Alexander Khramchekhyn says that given the poor state of relations, the fact that the two leaders are meeting at all should be considered a success.

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