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International Journalists Discuss President Bush’s Visit to the Former Soviet Republics

President Bush’s visit last week to three of the successor states of the former Soviet Union has drawn strong press reaction. The occasion for his trip, which included Latvia, Russia and Georgia, was the celebration of the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany 60 years ago.

Riga was the first stop on President Bush’s itinerary. Speaking with Judith Latham, host of VOA’s International Press Club, Latvian journalist Paul Laudseps, editorial page editor of Diena [Day] daily newspaper in Riga, said that for people at all levels of Latvian society the visit represented a “big deal.” And they appreciated what President Bush said, demonstrating that he recognized what had happened to the Baltic States and to Central and Eastern Europe after World War II was an “injustice” and that he regretted the Yalta agreement signed in 1945 by the American and Soviet Presidents and the British Prime Minister. According to Paul Laudseps, President Bush demonstrated that the Baltic States will not be forgotten and the Russia “can’t go on pushing its neighbors around”—whether it’s the Baltic States, Ukraine or Georgia.

But in Russia, according to Dimitri Siderov, Washington bureau chief of Kommersant, a business and political daily in Moscow, the Kremlin’s reaction was not at all positive. Mr. Siderov noted that last week Mr. Patrushev, the head of Russia’s FSB, the successor to the old KGB, accused Western non-governmental organizations and the Peace Corps of working with Western intelligence to destabilize the situation in the former Soviet republics. And Mr. Patrushev had even suggested that their goal could be to stir up Russia’s own “velvet revolution.” Furthermore, he indicated that there was “evidence” that foreign NGO’s are trying to set the scene for another revolution in Belarus.

Dmitri Siderov called President Bush’s trip “balanced” and well-planned in the way he first went to Latvia where he made an important speech on freedom and democracy. Mr. Siderov said the U.S. President clearly understood that it would be “impossible’ for him to make a public speech in Moscow of the same magnitude as he had in Riga because he was attending a parade honoring Russia’s participation in the victory of the Allies over Nazi Germany. Dmitri Siderov noted that the Kremlin is displeased with President Bush’s remarks in Riga and Tblilsi.

News reporter David Nikoradze of Rustavi 2, Georgia’s leading independent television company, covered President Bush’s recent visit to Tiblisi and his joint press conference with President Mikhail Saakashvili. Mr. Nikoradze described the visit as “vital,” given the timing, which coincided with Georgia’s transition to democracy in the wake of its Rose Revolution. According to David Nikoradze, it symbolizes that “Georgia is not alone.” And that’s important, he said, considering Geogia’s political crisis with Russia and some of its difficulties with those European governments that support the Kremlin on a number of issues. Mr. Nikoradze also noted the as yet unresolved problem of Russia’s military presence in Georgia and its military bases, which he said underscored the need for good relations with Western countries.

The senitive nature of President Bush’s trip was highlighted Wednesday when an American FBI agent revealed that the grenade found near the site where President Bush spoke in Tibilisi was capable of exploding. According to the FBI, it presented a threat to President Bush, President Saakashvili, and tens of thousands of Georgians attended the May 10th speech in Freedom Square.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.