President Bush is in Russia for a meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations. Mr. Bush says he will raise issues of press freedom and democracy in Russia during private talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The president and Mrs. Bush began their visit to St. Petersburg by laying flowers at a monument to those who defended the city then known as Leningrad during the 900-day siege by Nazis during the Second World War.
Mr. Bush then met privately with human rights and environmental activists, listening to their concerns about the state of Russian civil liberties.
"I assured them that the United States of America cares about the form of government in Russia, that we believe in the universal values embedded in democracy," said Mr. Bush. "We believe in rule of law. We believe in human rights. We believe everybody has the right to be treated equally."
President Bush says he will not lecture President Putin about human rights and democracy but will be firm in his belief that an active civil society and non-governmental organizations should be allowed to function without intimidation.
Mr. Bush says effective leaders do not scold people publicly all the time and that when he reminds the Russia leader of their differences, he will do so in a respectful way.
The president told those activists he met with that he hopes his visit was encouraging to them as he says it was certainly instructional for him.
"I explained to them that it is in the U.S. interest to remain engaged with Russia," added Mr. Bush. "Russia is a great country with a fantastic future. The foreign policy of my administration will be to work with Russia to solve common problems and at the same time be in a position where we can have a frank exchange of ideas."
President Bush says the Russian leader is his friend and he will pass on messages that some of the activists asked him to deliver to Mr. Putin.
As the father of 24-year-old daughters, Mr. Bush says some of those at the roundtable were about the same age, and he was impressed by their courage, their idealism, and their desire to make their society better.