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Foreign Media Reaction

March 2, 2005

BUSH-PUTIN SUMMIT: 'THE ISSUE OF RUSSIAN DEMOCRACY'

KEY FINDINGS

** Bush expresses concern over Putin's "rollback of democracy."

** Putin insists "democracy must fit Russia's present level of development."

** U.S. needs Russia to "help fight terrorism" and "control the spread" of WMD.

** Russia looks for U.S. "support for membership" in the WTO.

MAJOR THEMES

Bush carefully 'admonished' Putin over 'backsliding of democracy'-- Euro dailies expressed concern about the future of U.S.-Russian relations if Putin does not "renew his commitment to democracy" by "giving more room to the press and to opposition forces." Austria's independent Salzburger Nachrichten noted, "Bush's gentle admonishment in the direction of Russia to pursue 'democratic reforms' means a clear warning for Putin that he risks difficulty with America if he continues...[his] present course." Portugals moderate-left Publico opined "the 'special relationship' which was to be established will be in danger if the Kremlin continues along the road of authoritarianism and the restriction of liberties."

A 'transforming' Moscow will continue 'Russian-style democracy'-- After the "tense" summit between the two leaders, Italy's centrist La Stampa concluded, "Bush and Putin did not agree on the term 'democracy'" in their verbal "duel" over the word's significance. The center-left Irish Times commented that Putin "insisted the state must put some limits on democracy and economic freedom," while the official China Daily emphasized Putin's insistence that "democracy must fit Russia's history and traditions" for it to succeed. Italian papers were impressed by Putin's "'democratic' response" to Bush; centrist Corriere della Sera judged that "Putin won in Bratislava."

Russia's role in the fight against terror is vital-- The summit did have "some positive results" when both leaders "committed their countries to the anti-terror campaign," including the "control and the non-proliferation of WMD." German outlets stated, "without Russian cooperation the U.S. policy against the spread of WMD would have no chance to succeed" despite "all differences of opinion" about democracy, the U.S. and Russia "stand side by side--to the benefit of both countries" against WMD proliferation. Spain's conservative ABC added Russia "is of great importance and must have a role on the horizon" against terrorism.

WTO in Russia's 'sights'-- Commentators observed that entering the WTO would be "a real carrot for Russia" because it would help its economy. Writers speculated that "Putin's main interest" at the summit was to "assure U.S. support" for Russia's bid to join the WTO. Papers identified the "only concrete agreements" at the summit as Putin's promise "to help fight terrorism" and Bush's commitment to support Moscow's WTO accession. Brazil's liberal Folha de S. Paulo blasted the U.S. for tacitly "supporting Russia's membership in the WTO" while "pretending to accept the Russian thesis that barbarisms committed against civilians in Chechnya are part of the strategy to fight terrorism."

Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, rmrmail@state.gov

EDITORS: Steven E. Radwanski

EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 64 reports from 24 countries over 23 - 28 February 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.

EUROPE

BRITAIN: "Candid Criticism"

The left-of-center Guardian editorialized (2/25): "Mr. Bush's words will have been monitored carefully elsewhere in Europe. The EU has little to show for its much-vaunted 'strategic partnership' with Moscow, which precludes speaking out about Mr. Putin's hard-line Chechnya policy. It's all a reminder that however big, different and difficult Russia is, it must not be allowed to escape criticism."

"Soul Searching: Russia On Notice Over Democracy"

The conservative Times commented (2/25): "[Bush] is happy to allow speeches elsewhere and the warnings of U.S. officials to convey his concerns; face to face with Mr. Putin, however, he focused mainly on better co-operation on Iraq, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and containing Iran. Supporting Russia's application to the World Trade Organization was also part of his strategy to keep Moscow engaged. It is a strategy that demands nuances and hard-headed diplomacy. But it is the right one. Mr. Bush ended his press conference extolling democratic freedom. It was an adroit performance."

"Eurpoe's Leaders Must Start Standing Up to Putin"

The center-left Independent opined (2/25): "An eagerly awaited summit of Presidents Bush and Putin took place in Slovakia yesterday. On both sides of the Atlantic it was previewed as a showdown, a defining moment not only for Russo-American relations but as an indication of how Bush's foreign policy would be conducted during the second term. Even before the meeting at Bratislava Castle, the US President had expressed, in his most outspoken language yet on Russia, Washington's concerns about the reversal of democratic reforms and the rule of law. During a speech in Brussels he also urged European Union governments to place democracy at the heart of their dialogue with the Putin government. Putin was quick to offer reassurance yesterday about these fears being "unfounded". But Bush is right to be alarmed about the safety of democratic institutions and the behavior of the Putin government towards Russia's neighboring states. Bush is also right to lecture the EU's most powerful states that they need to adopt as strong a tone as Washington seems to be doing in their dealings with Moscow."

FRANCE: "Russia's Influence"

Pierre Frehal stated in regional Le Republican Lorain (2/25): "Russia and the U.S. may share the view that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but this did not stop Putin from signing an agreement with Teheran to develop its civilian nuclear program. This is how Moscow affirms its independence. And behind this affirmation is Russia's desire to prove the scope of its influence and the limits of the euro-Atlantic world's influence in a region that it considers to be its own. After Georgia and Ukraine, Russia has no intention of allowing other ex-Soviet republics to go west."

"Bush Demands Democracy From Putin"

Laure Mandeville determined in right-of-center Le Figaro (2/24): "The Russian-American relationship is light years from what it was in 2001 when the two heads of state met in Slovenia.... The alliance that was created to fight terrorism after September 11 is having more and more trouble resisting Russia's reversals in democracy and freedom.... The recent attempt by the Kremlin to try and thwart the elections in Ukraine has put a serious strain on the friendship between the two presidents.... George W. Bush is attached to a pragmatic dialogue with Moscow but wants to give it a lesson in democracy at the same time, two objectives that appear to be irreconcilable."

"Crisis On The Horizon"

Sacha Balit Vandebrouck commented in popular right-of-center France Soir (2/24): "George Bush is the eternal 'lesson giver' and since yesterday this role has been reinforced by the European Commission when it sanctioned the president's intention to remind Valdimir Putin of the basics of democracy."

"Bush And Putin: Trouble Brewing"

Paul Falzon stated in communist l'Humanite (2/24): "The American president embarked on a sensitive mission to win over Europe.... Even if his visit did not produce much in the way of results...it did succeed in part in improving the transatlantic relationship.... Today the American president will meet his Russian counterpart in Bratislava for a summit that will no doubt be tense. Indeed, over the last few months Washington has not minced words with regard to measures taken by Moscow in the media or energy sectors.... Moscow, for its part has taken pains not to respond too harshly...and today very few subjects bind these two former Cold War adversaries."

GERMANY: "The Freedom That He Proclaimed"

Centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin opined (2/28): "A friendship between two men is now cooling down. George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin have become strangers. Those who represent ideals make themselves assailable. Bush also experienced this reflex. His freedom rhetoric repels many people. Many consider it empty words. The false prophet should not pronounce the right things. President Bush's trip top Europe has hardly changed this fact. Those who are responsible for the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, and Guantánamo have forfeited the right to talk about freedom, democracy and human rights..In his second State of the Union address, Bush declared the spread of freedom his great vision. But critics replied his vision is ambiguous.. President Putin whom Bush declared in the past one of his soul mates is allowed to rescind democratic reforms without facing any criticism. On Thursday, the two met in Bratislava. It was the first test of how serious the president is about his vision. Is it real? The tone was friendly but tough. With his admonition to stick to democratic values, Bush almost went to the limits of diplomatic impoliteness.    And Putin saw himself forced to commit himself to democracy..The change in the U.S. policy towards Russia does not come out of the blue. Unease over Moscow has been going on in Congress for a long time.and the president must accept being taken by his word. It does not matter whether he himself believes in his visions. He brought them to light and will be measured against them. His freedom rhetoric has developed its own momentum. Today Moscow, tomorrow Riyadh, Damascus, Islamabad, and Cairo. The White House will no longer be able to escape a clear statement when the issue is human rights and democracy. For a soberly thinking European, Bush may have used the term 'freedom' too often.. Freedom is en vogue practically but also rhetorically. This is good. America is taking its president seriously. This is also wise. And what about us? One thing is certain. The next meeting between the chancellor and Putin will be watched closely - and then be compared with the Bush-Putin meeting in Bratislava."

"Partner Russia"

Michael Ludwig editorialized on the front-page of center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (2/25): "America needs Russia and a Russian leadership that is willing to enter into a dialogue. Without Russian cooperation, the U.S. policy against the spread of WMD would have no chance to succeed. Russia's policy is needed to prevent Iran from developing the bomb and to force North Korea to make concessions on the same problem.. This aspect also includes the safety of Russian nuclear weapons.... But a certain fingerspitzengefühl is necessary, for the defenders of Russian sovereignty have already been called to the plan.and they suspect the United States of controlling Russian nuclear arms.."For the pacification of the Middle East it is also better that Russia cooperates...and the fight against international terrorism can be waged easier if Russia sides with the opponents of terrorism.... It would be easier to get along with a totally democratic Russia than with a country that has an authoritarian leadership. That is why it is important to draw Russia's attention to undesirable trends and help it set up democratic structures. But a crusade mentality would be inappropriate to do this."

"Own Agenda"

A commentary in business daily Handelsblatt opined (2/25): "The complaints about the Russian dismantling of democracy and in cutting back civil rights cannot be pushed too far. The recent harsh tones from the US administration should therefore not be taken so seriously, the pragmatists say.But this appeasement is not necessarily right. Because the loss of importance of the fallen superpower Russia is now so great that even if Moscow were to fall deeply into US disfavor it would no longer have any really great potential for disturbance. Because it is at least as unlikely that Vladimir Putin would deliberately help Tehran acquire nuclear technology, and in so doing also oppose the Europeans, as it is that Russia would cooperate on nuclear matters with the authorities in the tense Beijing, Pyongyang and Washington triangle. For Moscow, either would simply be the equivalent of political suicide. No, right now Putin must swallow George W. Bush's criticism and grin and bear it. If he at least wants to appear to the domestic public as a partner who negotiates with the United States at eye level, then he must not again let himself be pulled into the torrent of isolationist words which he expressed after the -- as the Russians see it -- political debacle in Ukraine. It would only reveal Moscow's powerlessness..... "

"Partner Until Further Notice"

Frank Nienhuysen editorialized in Munich's center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung (2/25): "If we take the scourges [the spread of WMD] of our times as a yardstick, Russian-American relations after the summit seem to be appropriate to make the world safer. But while Bush and Putin in public praised peaceful co-existence, a kind of proxy war is going on in the background. Both sides fire strongly against each other in the second row, and this hits the core of Russian-American relations much better than the nice meeting in Bratislava.... Washington cannot afford a confrontation with Moscow. It is true that the former Russian superpower has been degraded by history.but the vast empire is still important enough for the world to profit from Russian-American relations marching in step.... Bush's insight to listen more closely to the advice of others could also be an approach for a new, stable dialogue, for a strategic alliance with Moscow.... Now, 20 years after the beginning of perestroika and glasnost, the former antagonists are at a crossroads. The joint fight against terrorism is an important foundation, but Russia can play a credible, strategic role in the global security system all the better, the stronger its commitment to democracy. President Bush made this clear even before the summit in Bratislava."

"Cool Continuity"

Business daily Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg concluded (2/25): "The U.S.-Russian agreement on portable missiles and nuclear fuels marks progress but by far no turnabout that will initiate an end of the differences. The agreement rather means continuity. In the fight against terrorism, the two powers again cooperate, and for the United States in particular, Russia is indispensable. Chechnya remains mainly an inner-Russian affair and Russia in turn will refrain from criticizing Bush's Iraq policy.... In Bratislava, Washington and Moscow renewed their coolly-tempered standstill agreement. In his second term, Bush gives the fight against terrorism absolute priority. For the control and the non-proliferation of WMD, the Russian nuclear power is a source of danger and an ally at the same time. This reason alone is enough for Bush not to risk a real confrontation and pin his hope instead on an extension of the control agreement. Putin is well-aware of this role and knows how to make the most out of it. But one thing should not be forgotten: cooperation in the fight against terrorism can hide, not resolve, conflicts."

"Perfectly Orchestrated"

Magdeburg's center-right Volksstimme remarked (2/25): "Condoleezza Rice has now definitely become the new star in the Bush administration. She perfectly orchestrated the European trip of her boss. Following the friendly beginning in Brussels and the closing of ranks between Germany and the United States, the home game in Bratislava crowned the trip. What a symbol: In an ex-vassal country of the Soviet Union, the U.S president granted his Russian colleague an audience to show Putin that freedom and democracy are indivisible today. And Slovakia as host country is almost more loyal than Texas. It stands in an unshakeable way on America's side in Iraq and is successful because of its neo-liberal policy. This EU newcomer personifies something, the United States is envisaging for the new Europe. One need not present this view in a bold-like manner as Secretary Rumsfeld did."

"A Lesson In Democracy"

Right-of-center Braunschweiger Zeitung of Braunschweig opined (2/25): "Bush gave his Russian counterpart Putin a lesson in democracy. Bush's warning words are necessary. Not only the U.S. president cannot and should not like Putin's understanding of democracy. There are hardly any more critical media in Russia. Putin abolished the direct election of governors and installed puppets instead.... The state deliberately weakened the opposition and is even influencing the entire economic system. These shortcomings of the former superpower should have been addressed long ago. At least Bush dared to say something, Putin's close friend Schroeder did not dare."

"No Longer Opponents"

Right-of-center Badisches Tagblatt of Baden-Baden noted (2/25): "Russia and the United States are no longer opponents. They are partners, but unequal partners. Not only these days the Russian people are becoming painfully aware of the fact that Russia is no longer a superpower. And this despite the fact that Putin represents for many Russians the splendor of past Soviet times. Bush's European trip marks a turning point. While the old and the new Europe show harmony with the United States, the conflicts are shifting to the East. The EU-Europeans should, as Bush suggested, take a closer look at Russia, but with the basic understanding that Russia is a cultural and proud nation. An undemocratic Russia is a problem for Europe, but a humiliated Russia, too."

"Nothing Goes Without Moscow"

Center-right Thueringer Allgemeine of Erfurt judged (2/25): "Nothing goes without Moscow. This is the result of the meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin. One of the greatest concerns of the U.S. president is the assumption that the Ayatollahs in Iran are working on getting the bomb. And after he agreed on this question with the western Europeans, it is now only logical to include Russia in the struggle against a possible nuclear threat. Of course, the accession to the WTO is a real carrot for Russia, but the Islamic leaders in Iran are luring him with money and influence. And they are not the only ones."

"A Cold Peace"

Karla Engelhard commented on national radio station Deutschlandfunk of Cologne (2/24): "Russian-U.S. relations have reached a bottom low. It is not yet an ice-age, but a cold peace.... The Kremlin feels encircled, since Washington is restricting its scope of action. Georgia and Ukraine turned away from Moscow with the support from the United States, and others could follow.... In the halls in the Kremlin the spirit from the Soviet times is prevailing...and in Washington, distrust is spreading and the suspicion that the other side is pursuing hostile intentions: Russia's cooperation with Iran, the shipment of advanced missile systems to Syria, and China's arms modernization are making Washington nervous.... Conservative forces already called upon Bush to demand more democracy from Putin, and, if necessary, to withdraw U.S. support.. Bush knows that, when he talks with his friend Putin about democracy, they talk at cross-purposes.... But more important for Bush is an accountable partner in foreign policy. In the anti-terror campaign and in the struggle against the spread of WMD, Russia and America stand side by side despite all differences of opinion--to the benefit of the both sides."

ITALY: "Iran, Putin Defies Bush-Agreement On Nuclear Issue"

Centrist, influential La Stampa expressed (2/28): "In the Bratislava meeting, Putin and Bush seemed to have reached a common position on Iran and the nuclear question, instead a few days later Moscow announced an agreement to provide nuclear fuel to Teheran for the opening of the first Iranian nuclear plant in mid-2006. Moscow's decision defies Washington and worries the entire West.. Washington appears ready to opt for a tough line and could ask for Russia's suspension from the G8.. Washington is giving them time, because it has chosen not to denounce Iran during this week's IAEA meeting. But if in three months' time it does not produce concrete results on the end of uranium enrichment, . the Americans will push to take the issue before the UN Security Council and impose sanctions against Teheran. This could pave the way to a new confrontation like the one in Iraq."

"When Talking With One Another Is The Only Way To Begin To Understand One Another"

Business-oriented leading Il Sole-24 Ore commented (2/25): "Slightly tense with Chirac, amiable with Schroeder, relaxed with Putin, and displaying a crude but effective charm, George W. Bush has dominated the week. And he has given the lie to Europe's sarcastic prejudice. Sober in his dialectic, he looked the Europeans straight in the eye when talking to them. "Let us set aside our differences and work together," he said, adding: "The United States needs a strong Europe." These were soft words, after two years of silence, to voice a harsh concept: The United States is continuing to pursue a power policy, but one built less on ideology and more on pragmatism; and it is offering Europe a chance to dialogue and to participate in managing the system. It will be a minority participation, of course, but it will carry a certain amount of weight nonetheless. This, however, on condition that Europe joins as a co-guarantor in the US plan for international stabilization; and that, as obvious corollaries, France curbs its nostalgic intemperance, Germany puts a stop to its tactical gesticulations, and Russia puts the brakes on its nationalistic policy of stirring. In other words, the Europeans must show signs of unity and of credibility. "

"Now Europe Must Play Its Part"

Mario Platero said in business-oriented leadng Il Sole-24 Ore (2/25): "After making a wealth of overtures and after devoting the first trip of his second mandate to Europe and to the recovery of joint diplomatic initiatives, at this point George W. Bush expects results. Sources close to the administration in President Bush's entourage have told Il Sole-24 Ore that above and beyond all the talking, certain substantive results have already been seen in terms of the identification of the agenda, but that 'it is now up to Europe and to the individual European countries to come up with an adequate response.' ....At the top of the list, also in chronological terms, there is Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. If that withdrawal really does take place over the next few months, before the end of May, before the election in Lebanon, as our sources said they hope to see happen, that should restore greater stability in the region, creating another democracy in the Middle East, in Beirut, and providing a fresh boost to the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians...."

"Vladimir's Lessons"

Franco Venturini opined in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (2/25): "In meeting with his former good friend Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush may well have been nostalgic for his former great enemies Chirac and Schroeder. To be sure, not everything was ironed out with his two inconvenient European allies. Behind the proclamations of reconciliation, very different approaches remain on Iran, China, Iraq and Kyoto. But at least they did not disagree on common values...on the political and cultural patrimony at the heart of the transatlantic alliance.... Some probably imagined that the meeting between the two [Bush and Putin] in Bratislava would be tense. While it was a given that bipolar realpolitik would surface . no one imagined that Putin would hand Bush a 'democratic' response. While Bush came out the winner in Brussels and Magonza, Putin won in Bratislava. And Europe has one more problem: how should we interpret Russian-American relations? Should we believe the inflexible Bush in Brussels or the cautious one in Bratislava?"

"The Anti-Nuclear Alliance Of Bush And Putin"

Stefano Trincia remaked in Rome's center-left daily Il Messaggero (2/25): "Those who imagined...a return to the icy Cold War climate were disappointed. In the name of reciprocal convenience, pragmatism and the fight against terrorism, George Bush and Vladimir Putin have found an understanding and put aside the tensions of recent days on the issue of Russian democracy. There was no rift between the two leaders, rather 'many positive results,' as the U.S. president commented at the end of the meeting."

"Cold Peace Between Bush And Putin"

Giampaolo Pioli opined in the conservative syndicate Il Resto del Carlino/La Nazione/Il Giorno (2/25): "More than a summit, it was a flat-out 'face to face.' 'Open and frank' as they say in diplomatic parlance.... The cold war did not return between Washington and Moscow. If anything, it's 'cold peace.' Each needs the other; the collaborative relationship resumes.... The Americans obtained an important result. By placing their finger on the Russian president's controversial choices, they forced him on the defensive and Putin implicitly agreed to give more room to the press and to opposition forces.... Those who thought Bratislava would produce clamorous agreements were disappointed. Both had to grin and bear it.... Bush ended his European visit with a broad agenda, not so much in terms of concrete results, but of prospects. He opened important channels of dialogue on various fronts. He knows Europe is by his side and that Russia is sitting on the fence but not hostile. It was a successful mission, but he must return to multilateralism. The sooner the better."

"Bush-Putin, Challenge On Democracy"

Maurizio Molinari asserted in centrist La Stampa (2/25): "There was agreement on Iran and the fight against terrorism, but a duel on democracy. The summit at the Castle of Bratislava between U.S. President George W. Bush and the Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin confirmed that relations between the two countries are proceeding at different speeds, with strong tensions beneath the understanding. The agreements reached at the end of the two-hour meeting...confirm that Russia is the U.S.'s privileged partner on the war against terrorism.... If the summit had been limited to documents and final declarations, the disagreements over democracy would have never come through as they did during the press conference..., unveiling another side to the summit.... Bush and Putin did not agree on the term 'democracy.'"

"Bush And Putin: More Democracy"

Alberto Flores D'Arcais commented in left-leaning La Repubblica (2/25): "In the end, the much-awaited 'match' between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin ended with few concrete acts--the White House obtained Moscow's commitment to fight Iran's nuclear weapons program and the Kremlin won support for Russia's entrance into the WTO,...and nothing came of the expected topic of democracy in the country of Soviet post-communism. If we had to award a victory, it would have to go to the Russian president for having 'organized' the closing press conference...and for using to his advantage a thorny issue like the lack of fundamental freedoms in Russia."

"Bush-Putin, Tensions Remain"

Bruno Marolo remarked in pro-democratic left party (DS) daily L'Unità (2/25): "Vladimir Putin obtained almost everything he wanted from his meeting with George Bush in Bratislava. The U.S. is committed to helping Russia enter the WTO.... The U.S. president's...five days in Europe softened the polemical tones with the countries that opposed the Iraqi invasion, but they procured him only a symbolic contribution from NATO to train Iraqi armed forces. Nonetheless, Russia and Europe enthusiastically welcomed the U.S. initiative for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Bush kindled new hope when he said: 'A [Palestinian] state on scattered territories will not work.' The relaunching of the transatlantic alliance could depend on the sincerity of these words."

"Russia And The Betrayed Idyll"

Sandro Viola opined in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (2/24): "When Bush and Putin meet today in an ancient palace in Bratislava, cordial gestures will abound. But the tone for their meeting will be reciprocal mistrust--a mistrust that has been growing for some time and that was exacerbated by the December events in Kiev. Moscow and Washington clash on a number of issues: Iraq, Iran, Russian arms to Syria and China, in addition to Russia's authoritarian drift. But Ukraine was the final straw.... In today's two-and-one-half-hour meeting in Bratislava, Putin will claim his right to tailor democracy to Russian history and traditions, and Bush will do his best to reassure him of the U.S. government's good intentions. But room for lasting understanding between Moscow and Washington has narrowed--perhaps because of America's more or less conscious tendency to isolate Moscow, since the Russian political class is not yet ready to truly and loyally collaborate with America."

AUSTRIA: "A Good Friendship Will Stand A Few Tests"

Mass-circulation provincial Kleine Zeitung maintained (2/28): "The relations between Washington and Moscow are being dictated by realpolitik. (...) Stronger than all differences are the things that unite them; for instance, the common fear of terror that is justified also in Putin's case. And the massacre of Beslan has stigmatized the Chechen fight for freedom in the US, too. The friendship between George Bush and Valdimir Putin has cooled off. However, a good friendship will survive a few tests. The two have more in common than issues that divide them. And that is good for the world at large."

"Terror Defense As Uniting Factor"

Senior editor for independent daily Der Standard Erhard Stackl opined (2/25): "From Moscow's point of view, the US has been interfering more and more into Russia's sphere of influence of late. Belarus, one of Moscow's close allies was labeled an 'outpost of tyranny' by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The peaceful revolutions in the Georgian Republic and the Ukraine where Moscow loyalists and potentates have been ousted by western-style democrats, many Russians suspect to be the result of subversive activities on the part of U.S.-sponsored groups - so much so, that Putin's advisors wanted him to prohibit the activities of civil rights groups in Russia that are being sponsored from abroad. However, the Russian President did not comment such developments in public. After the meeting in Slovakia, it became obvious that Bush and Putin, who are still on a first-name basis, want to continue their cooperation. Not as cordially as before, but out of the pragmatic realization that, as Putin said in Bratislava, 'there is no alternative to a strengthening of the Russian-American relations.'"

"Anti-Terror Fight Unites Bush And Putin"

Independent Salzburger Nachrichten editorialized (2/25): "For George W. Bush, the meeting with Putin in Bratislava was a tightrope walk. On the one hand, the US President had to prove that he was serious about his promise to promote democracy and freedom everywhere in the world. In view of the Kremlin boss' authoritarian demeanor, Russia has virtually become a test case for the Bush message. On the other hand, the American had to avoid putting off the Russian head of state altogether since he needs Putin with regard to many security issues that are relevant for the US. This difficult balancing act Bush sought to accomplish with the new flexibility that characterized his entire European tour... Much was at stake at the Bratislava summit. After the U.S. President has achieved a new balance in the relations to his European allies (from working against each other to working together) he now seeks to adjust his relations to Russia. Bush's gentle admonishment in the direction of Russia to pursue 'democratic reforms' means for Putin a clear warning that he will risk the unity with America if he continues to steer his present course."

"No Reasonable Judgment"

Security affairs writer for centrist daily Die Presse Burkhard Bischof editorialized (2/24): "The question of what makes the public in some European countries tick is justified when looking at some recent poll results according to which more Germans have confidence in Russian President Putin that they do in Bush (29 to 24 percent) and more Slovaks think the Russian President a better democrat than the American one (43 to 36). Putin may be said to be many things, but one thing he is definitely not: a democrat. And in spite of all negative tendencies in the U.S. during the last four years, there has been no endangering of democracy and development in the direction of an authoritarian state under Bush. But where Bush is concerned, people's capacity for reasonable judgment is impaired. The poll results show one thing: The primitive anti-American attitude in Europe goes far beyond the group of America-haters that have always existed on the extreme right and left of the political spectrum. That is the worrying thing."

BELGIUM: "Soft Power"

Jurek Kuczkiewicz concluded in left-of-center Le Soir (2/26): "While we are talking about lessons of democracy, Bush also gave some to his old friend Vladimir Putin. Here is another clear difference between the transatlantic partners. While the U.S. President is stepping up pressure on Russia, which becomes an increasingly authoritarian regime, Europe, or at least Western Europe - one no longer speaks of 'the Old Europe' - seems to stick to its old tradition not to bother the 'Czar' too much. That is what people in Europe call 'the soft power.' More 'soft' than 'power' is what Bush - who is catching the Europeans at their own game -- seems to tell them."

CZECHOSLOVAKIA: "Bush With Europe, Bush Without Europe"

Jan Rybar commented in leading, centrist MF Dnes (2/26): "U.S. President George W. Bush's tour to Europe has actually led to no fundamental change in the controversies between Europe and America. However, Bush's "reprimand" of Russian President Vladimir Putin has become a noteworthy moment in the visit. Bush reportedly pointed out to Putin too often that he was afraid of the future of Russian democracy. This is noteworthy because America needs Russia and, to put it with only slight exaggeration, [America] may need them even more than the rest of Europe."

"Putin's Turn Will Come Soon"

Lubos Palata commented in center-right Lidove noviny (2/25): "The United States and Russia have a common enemy--Islamic terrorism. Both countries are waging their wars, the Russians in Chechnya and the Americans in Iraq, and the rest of the world has little understanding for both of them. The similarity, however, ends there. While Bush has become the disseminator of 'freedom and democracy', Putin purposefully curbs democracy in Russia step by step. The two current superpowers recently clashed in the battle over Ukraine. Both investing considerable means and energy to influence the outcome of the Ukrainian elections.... Although being tied up in Iraq, America still had the strength to control the elections in this 50-million country. The same can be expected in Belarus and in Moldova as well. And in the end the U.S. will find the energy to tackle the problems with democracy even in Russia. Unless Putin understands this, he will not be the Russian president for long."

"George And Vladimir"

Jan Rybar noted in leading centrist MF Dnes (2/25): "Russian-American relations are most probably entering a new stage in which disputes will be more frequent. In the mid-1990s, the Americans desperately tried to keep Boris Yeltsin in power because they were afraid of the return of communism in Russia. When Putin appeared on the scene, the U.S. was shocked first, but after a while the U.S. started to see Putin as something of a savior because he returned stability to the country. Bush and Putin have surprisingly managed to come closer to one another, maybe also because both are hard, straightforward and pragmatic politicians. However, Putin's help to 'friend George' in the war against terrorism is no longer sufficient in his second term, in which he wants to build a 'safer and freer' world. In this framework, we should understand Bush's remarks about 'the problems of Russian democracy'. Russia, on the other hand, considers itself to be much more of a key global player than it was in the past and the Russians feel that the U.S. should finally recognize this."

GREECE: "He Worked Things Out With Europe, But.Messed Up Relations With Russia."

Pro-opposition large-circulation Sunday Ethnos noted (2/27): "Almost all agree with the estimate that President Bush brought transatlantic relations back to the level they were before the war on Iraq, but also stress, and very rightly so, that he opened a front with Vladimir Putin that will create tough problems and reopen old wounds."

HUNGARY: "Change In Russian-US Relations?"

Commentator Gabor Stier wrote in conservative Magyar Nemzet (2/24): "For the country to develop as a European nation, the Russian leadership must return to the road of commitment to democracy and constitutionality." This was stated by US President George W. Bush in his program speech in Brussels that set the basic tone of his European tour. He noted that the development of democratic reforms had to be placed in the focus of dialogue between the West and Russia. In spite of the predictable smiles, all this suggests a kind of turn, a change of atmosphere in Russian-US relations at the two presidents' 24 February meeting in Bratislava.....Therefore, Bush's smile in Bratislava cannot be very sincere, because he cannot really disregard the US public's clearly worsening opinion regarding Putin. The press, which for some time has been keeping Putin's Russia under firm pressure, has done even more than parliamentary representatives regarding this. It has to be noticed that public opinion has become an independent factor of international politics in the West, and, after thorough preparation, certain countries also have a propensity to utilize this in their geopolitical tactics. Now they happen to be doing it against Russia."

"Small Powers' Vital Interests"

Historian Ferenc Fejto pointed out in liberal-leaning Magyar Hirlap (2/24): "The legend of the wealthy American uncle has long sustained the mythology of the European, especially Central and Eastern European, families. If there is trouble, the American uncle will come, with his pockets full of dollars, and all problems will be solved.... The grownup but anxious family is still expecting a lot from President Bush's trip. They are aware that they will never be able to make it without America, because...power, arms and money all belong to it; consequently the right and obligation to solve problems, too.... The Bush visit is indeed called upon to resolve huge problems that will affect the lives of us all and decide our fate. Now, at the time of the U.S.-Russia talks in Slovakia, it is appropriate to voice the hope that the esteemed parties will not forget that, beside large powers, there are also small powers. There is a multitude of peoples in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and South America that are anxiously waiting for an outcome of the talks that will not forget about their vital interests--an occurrence repeated many times earlier in history."

IRELAND: "Bush's Delicate Russian Approach"

The center-left daily Irish Times reported (2/28): "The two men have a good personal relationship, which was put to the test on this occasion. As Mr Bush said, it is in the United States' interest to have a constructive engagement with Russia. He has encouraged it on issues of terrorism, security, nuclear weapons and energy over the past four years. But there is widespread concern in the US and Europe that Mr Putin is backsliding on democracy, human rights, the rule of law and media freedoms. While Mr Bush has clearly registered this concern, there is little reason to suppose Mr Putin will heed it in practice without continuing pressure on him and incentives encouraging him to do so... while Mr Bush pursues a delicate path between realism and critique in his dealings with Mr Putin, echoing a tension shared by his European allies."

"Old Foes"

The center-right Irish Independent expressed (2/26): "Relations between America and much of Europe have been stormy to say the least since the American-led invasion of Iraq. There have been particularly heated exchanges between Washington on the one hand, and Paris and Berlin on the other. President Bush's visit to Europe this week was intended in large part to mend fences and it went some way towards achieving this although tensions remain and could easily re-erupt. In a way, this week was a case of 'back to the future'. Old allies are trying to bury the hatchet and old rivals are brandishing them once more. The most frosty meeting of the week took place between President Bush and Russia's President Putin. The reality is that Washington and Moscow are snarling at one another again. Washington is especially unhappy at Russia for selling weaponry to Syria and nuclear fuel to Iran. So are we in a new Cold War? The short answer is no. There is no fear of a new Iron Curtain rising. But certainly we are in for a period of colder relationships between two old foes."

"Embattled Putin 'Satisfied' After Summit With Tough-Talking Bush"

The center-left Irish Times opined (2/26): "President Vladimir Putin returned to Russia last night from Slovakia, declaring himself satisfied with his summit meeting with US President Bush but facing increasing opposition at home from liberals and dissatisfied voters. Mr Putin endured one of his toughest days in five years in the Kremlin on Thursday when he fielded unusually stiff questions from Mr Bush on the state of Russian democracy, endured withering criticism from a former Russian prime minister and saw his embattled government descend into public squabbling. 'We are satisfied with the talks and their results. I believe our American partners would make the same assessment,' Mr Putin said of his meeting with Mr Bush, striking a cheery note that was utterly at odds with his prickly demeanor after the summit. While agreeing with Mr Bush to combat nuclear arms proliferation, strive for peace in the Middle East and strengthen co-operation in the energy sector, Mr Putin looked aggrieved by his US counterpart's public questioning of the Kremlin's attitude towards political opposition, free media and the rule of law."

"Russia Will Not Alter Its System"

Daniel McLaughlin commented in the center-left daily Irish Times (2/25): "President Vladimir Putin launched a robust defense of Russian democracy yesterday after President Bush questioned his attitude to the rule of law, independent media and political opposition at their summit meeting in the Slovak capital.... The two leaders pledged to work together to fight terror, prevent Iran and North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons, bring peace to the Middle East and boost energy co-operation. But after Mr Bush peppered his European tour with unusually blunt queries over the state of Russian democracy, the focus was on how Mr Putin would answer the charge that he is reversing liberal reforms begun by Presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin.... Pressed over what specific problems he raised with his Russian counterpart, Mr Bush repeatedly chose to praise the former KGB spy as a trustworthy straight talker.... Assailed by the U.S. and European Union for allowing the Yukos oil firm to be broken up and its founder--the rich and powerful Mr Mikhail Khodorkovsky--to be thrown into jail, Mr Putin insisted that the state must place some limits on democracy and economic freedom.... After recent rows over the contentious elections in Ukraine...and the Kremlin's opposition to the war in Iraq, the two leaders were keen however, to underline their essential partnership.... He (President Bush) will have raised hackles in Moscow earlier in the day by calling for the strengthening of democracy across the former Soviet Union--talk that Russian officials associate with what they see as recent U.S.-backed revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, which brought to power leaders who want to reduce the Kremlin's traditional influence on their nations."

"Chilly Conditions Expected When Bush And Putin Meet"

 

Moscow correspondent Chris Stephen remarked in the center-left Irish Times (2/24): "The idea of a Russian and U.S. 'partnership' is now part of history.... Mr. Bush might have come to western Europe this week to 'build bridges', but he has taken a very different line with Moscow, saying on Monday: 'For Russia to make progress as a European nation, the Russian government must renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law.' It is a sign that the hostility generated between the two nations over Ukraine's presidential election last December has not healed.... This hostility is not limited to Ukraine. Washington has criticized Mr Putin's consolidation of power at home which has seen the state take control of TV and regional elections for governors scrapped in favor of a system where Mr Putin now appoints them.... Washington has concluded that co-operation against terrorism with Russia is of little value--although Middle Eastern extremists are in action in Chechnya, they have no direct bearing on America's own war on terror. However, the real issue is the competition between Moscow and Washington for influence among the former states of the Soviet Union.... Washington poured money into funding Ukraine's opposition groups in the run-up to last November's elections, and the effort worked, with Mr Yushchenko turning his back on Moscow in favor of the West. Washington has had similar success by supporting Georgia's pro-democracy 'Rose Revolution' in 2003, and may do so yet again next month after backing opposition groups in Moldova.... Policymakers in Moscow and Washington now see their relationship, if not as foes then certainly as competitors, with the old idea of 'partnership' now consigned to history.... He (Putin) has not been afraid to take aim at Washington, announcing late last year a new nuclear missile designed to penetrate U.S. defenses.... And both men still need each other. America wants Russia to join it in isolating Iran and North Korea, while Russia wants the U.S. to stop supporting opposition parties in Central Asia. Mr Putin wants U.S. support for its application to join the World Trade Organization, while Mr. Bush wants assurances that U.S. oil companies will not be frozen out of exploiting huge new fields in Russia and central Asia. A potential deal on these issues looms for both men. The question is whether either president will be in a mood to make it."

 

"Rising Anti-Putin Sentiment In U.S. Means The Talking Will Be Tough"

 

Conor O'Clery stated in the center-left Irish Times (2/24): "Officials in Washington no longer see the Russian president as 'trustworthy".... The rhetoric about Mr. Putin has become sharply critical in U.S. official circles in recent months. Mr Bush said on Tuesday that it was important that he raise Western concerns with the Russian leader at their summit in Bratislava today. Analysts say that he has little choice: if he fails to affirm his commitment to freedom with M.r Putin by his side, it will signal that he is exercising a double standard. Mr Bush has already this week aired complaints about the roll-back in democracy in Russia, about the Kremlin's attempts to impede democratic reform in Ukraine and Georgia, about the crushing of the media and the arrests of business figures. But raising such concerns with the expressionless Mr Putin, whose face, when challenged, becomes like a mask obscuring any glimpse of his soul, could cause the meeting to degenerate into a slanging match. The Russian ambassador to Washington, Mr Yuri Ushakov, served warning of this yesterday. He said that Mr Putin was likely to raise his own concerns 'about the situation in the United States and certain troubling aspects of Washington's policies'.... The rising anti-Putin sentiment in the U.S. has been exacerbated by Russian dealings with Iran and Syria. U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice publicly contradicted Mr. Putin's assertion last week that Iran was not secretly developing nuclear weapons."

 

LATVIA: "Let Us Not Be Conceited"

Juris Paider held in nationalist business-oriented Riga Neatkariga said (2/26): "The meeting is over. Certain agreements were reached by Russia and the US. How else would you explain the fact that yesterday, as if a magician had waved a wand, the US court which sought to be the chief arbitrator in the dispute between the Russian government and Yukos over the issue of taxes suddenly took a firm stand against Yukos' request for protection from the US legal system? The US court refused to allow Yukos to begin bankruptcy proceedings and announced that the presence of the company in the United States does not mean that the US has jurisdiction over all matters. The Yukos affair is now completely a part of Russia's legal structure. Russia won an important diplomatic victory in Bratislava."

"A Different Syle"

Aivars Ozolins in independent centrist Diena commented (2/26): "US President George Bush's visit to Europe clearly marked out a change of style in terms of relations with the European democracies which are US allies, as well as relations with Russia. The peaceful tone with which the president spoke to the EU and its member state leaders may be a good beginning for restoring mutual trust, but that will require some time. At the same time, however, the president used stricter words in talking about democracy in Russia, but he softened the tone toward the end of his visit. Emphasizing that he is a friend of President Putin and trusts him, Bush risks creating the impression that he indirectly undertakes responsibility for the fact that "friend Vladimir" is trampling democracy. The brief press conference which followed the meeting between Bush and Putin in Bratislava was devoted to the principles of democracy, and that alone indicates how serious this problem is. I cannot imagine that if two leaders of democratic countries were to hold a press conference, they would start comparing the two political systems and explaining their thinking about the basic principles of democracy. Two journalists who serve the interests of the Kremlin posed softball questions. One was more of a claim that Russia is just as free as the United States. The second was an attack against Bush, claiming that the US persecutes journalists, too. This was reminiscent of the Soviet era and reminded all of us of the pitiful condition of the news media in Putin's Russia."

POLAND: "Friendship For Democracy"

Slawomir Popowski wrote in centrist Rzeczpospolita (2/25): "While avoiding a direct row with the occupant of the Kremlin, the U.S. president made it Unequivocally clear that the slogan of 'promoting freedom and democracy' is not just a political declaration, but one of the main subjects on his agenda for the second term - as pertains to Russia as well.... The months to come will show how the Bratislava summit will have affected the relations between the White House and the Kremlin. One thing, though, is certain. Given Bush's remarks, the old infatuation for 'Putin, the friend' is clearly becoming a thing of the past. One should not expect a new Cold War, but the pressure on Moscow will continue, or will perhaps even intensify--in the interest of the world and Russia itself."

PORTUGAL: "Bush Faces Putin"

Influential moderate-left Público opined (2/24): "In his meeting today with Vladmimir Putin, George W. Bush should remember that the 'special relationship' which was to be established with his Russian counterpart will be at risk if the Kremlin continues along the road of authoritarianism and the restriction of liberties.. [Putin's] rhetoric...makes [one] fear for the worst and exposes the rising domestic difficulties which the Russian President faces.. [Putin] knows that he can always throw his weight around as a indispensable member of the international community.. [T]he meeting today in Bratislava cannot be a cynically realist interlude in George W. Bush's idealist agenda."

SLOVENIA: "President's Messages To Slovak Citizens And World"

Alena Gottweisova in Narodna Obroda noted (2/25): "Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda can be satisfied as well: he received praise for the support that Slovakia has provided, and is still providing, to the United States at the time of the military intervention in Iraq (to which the Christian Democratic Movement [KDH] adopted a quite reserved stance) and for building democracy in that country. The more specific part of the US President's speech was primarily devoted to foreign policy. It was not a coincidence that this address was delivered in Bratislava, rather than, for example, in Brussels or during the meeting with representatives of Germany and France. Bush announced that he would continue to support countries striving for democracy. He referred to Iraq in the first place and most extensively, which is understandable, given that this long-term bone of contention between many European countries and the United States has only recently been buried. However, he also named other countries: Georgia, Moldova, and Belarus. Again, it is no coincidence that this speech was made immediately before his meeting with Russian President Putin. Putin thus received a warning that the United States would continue to support political circles that share its values, regardless of the fact that they operate in countries that the Russian Federation considers its traditional "hunting ground.... "

"Too Many Shadows"

Tomaz Gerden commented in left-of-center independent Dnevnik (2/23): "For a long time, meetings of American and Russian presidents have not been historical. They are frequent.... Also George Bush and Vladimir Putin have met each other several times. After the period of Yeltsin and Clinton, the time came for Russia to become a real American partner and ally. Expectations were too big. A difficult meeting is awaiting Bush and Putin in Prague on Thursday.... Bush was very direct on Monday [when he said] that...Russia should not be isolated, nevertheless, the United States and European countries should make democratic reforms the heart of their dialogue with Russia. He could not have been clearer.... [At the meeting] much will be said about the successful joint fight against terrorism, and about economic successes; still [the two countries] cannot be called allies. They are not adversaries either, but too many shadows have accumulated in their relations."

SLOVAKIA: "Cooled Optimism In Europe"

Juraj Marusiak wrote in centrist Pravda (2/26): "Vladimir Putin's hostile reaction to the reservations concerning the violation of human rights in his country also testifies to a lack of respect for the fulfillment of international agreements. Critics request that Bush at least acknowledge the UN Charter. Their demands that Putin fulfill the obligations applicable to members of the Council of Europe and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] are equally justified. The meeting in Bratislava confirmed that, in principle, the two leaders are on good terms in mutual recognition of their unilateral actions. Bush, as a politician who must pay much more attention to domestic and world public opinion than Putin, could hardly avoid criticizing the current events in Russia. Putin did not return the ball to his court by mentioning the position of prisoners in Guantanamo with no rights. In turn, Bush gentlemanly kept quite about Northern Caucasus, even though this problem went beyond the Russian borders a long time ago and similarly to the situation in the Middle East, it cannot be solved by a military intervention."

SPAIN: "Bush And Putin, Closer"

Conservative daily ABC wrote (2/25): "The intelligent flexibility that the U.S. is boasting of has opened a new era of cooperation on various matters.... The hand extended to its old rival [Russia] is of great importance. Russia must have a role in the horizon being designed. First, because it gives it a project on which to focus its energies. Second, it helps Russia's stability if it is involved in seeking a collaboration between East and West... Seen in this light, Bush's visit to Europe shows its deepest significance--the willingness of the U.S. to continuing leading the cause of freedom in the 21st century."

"Appointment In Bratislava"

Left-of-center El País opined (2/25): "Bush, converted in his last term into an apostle of spreading democracy, says that he wants to put the screws on Putin with the EU support. It's improbable that rhetorical pressure nor incentives such as the promised help to enter the WTO will change the course of a Vladimir Putin who sees himself as a global leader. But it is necessary to try."

TURKEY: "Bush-Putin"

Zafer Atay observed in economic-political Dunya (2/28): "The Russian and American leaders agreed that Iran and North Korea should not have nuclear weapons. However, the two leaders remain at odds on the issue of democracy. Putin kept his distance from Western-style liberty and freedom of expression. Instead, he underlined that Russia is going through a transition period. This is a clear signal that Putin will continue with a 'Russian-style' democracy."

"What Will Europe And Russia Say To Bush?"

Ekrem Kiziltas wrote in mass appeal Milliyet (2/23): "Bush who is going to talk with a good many heads of state including France's President Jacques Chirac, Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and later on Russia's President Vladimir Putin, will probably not tell them of his ambitions to "rule the world" and as a result "rule over them. Looking at it from here what US President Bush is saying to the Europeans is this: "There are certain things we need to fix on our way to world domination, before we turn our attention to you, and we are asking you for help here. Afterwards, we shall pay special attention to you. Looking from here it is of course impossible to predict what kind of reply the European leaders, and that includes Russia's President Putin when he talks to him later, have given or will give to President Bush. Only time will tell."

ASIA-PACIFIC

CHINA: "Shadows Still Hang Over U.S.-Russian Ties"

The official English-language China Daily reported (2/25): "Suggestions from Bush and Putin on Thursday that they would continue to 'nurture and work' their relationship might strengthen the argument that U.S.-Russian relations would have been dominated by a more pragmatic spirit. Disputes between Russia and America over Iran are still on the table as Russia is convinced that Iran had no intention of making nuclear weapons and Moscow would continue to co-operate with Teheran on nuclear energy, which flatly contradicted Washington. There are also U.S. concerns over Russia's stance towards Syria after Moscow announced last week it was planning to sell the Strelets anti-aircraft systems to the country amid U.S. concerns that weapons technology could fall into the hands of militants. Further more, it has been noticed that Bush, who made spreading democracy and freedom a key slogan of his second term and urged Putin to 'renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law,' expressed his 'concerns' over Moscow's approach to democracy during his talks with Putin, who insisted democracy must fit Russia's present level of development, Russia's history and traditions."

CHINA (HONG KONG AND MACAU SARS): "U.S. And Russia Can Hardly Remove Fundamental Differences"

Pro-PRC Chinese-language Macau Daily News remarked (2/27): "Both the U.S. and Russia knew very well that they could not change the stance of their respective counterpart through their meeting. However, in order to show their sincerity in improving relations, both countries attached much importance to the meeting. When Bush met with Putin, he urged Russia to promote democracy; whereas Putin promised that the democratic development in Russia would not back track. Even though the two leaders took a softer stance and used softer words, they could not cover up their differences on the Iranian nuclear crisis, Russian-Syria military cooperation, etc.... Even though Russia cannot compete with the U.S. in terms of strength and influence in the global scope, its oil resources, its status as a nuclear super power and its influence in the Middle East region give Russia an important role that the U.S. cannot discredit. This is the real reason Bush repeatedly shows friendship to Putin. Nevertheless, the U.S. and Russia can hardly hide their basic differences over issues such a democratic process and the ways they handle international affairs."

JAPAN: "Bush and Putin Meeting Reveals Differing Opinions"

Business-oriented Nihon Keizai editorialized (2/26): "The international community shares concerns relayed to Russian President Putin by President Bush over the Russian leader's centralization of power. Without improvement on this front, Russia is likely to be the 'odd man out' in international forums, including the G8. Moscow must listen to the opinion of others."

"High Time To Give Up Hopes For Democracy in Russia"

Conservative Sankei insisted (2/26): "We must continue our efforts to urge the Kremlin to return to a path toward democracy. The recent Bush-Putin meeting in Bratislava has revealed the stark reality that Russia appears to be incapable of transforming itself into a Western-type democracy. Putin's unabashed rejection of a direct election system demonstrates that the autocratic nature of his government is unlikely to change... Western countries, including Japan, must give up hopes of greater democracy in Russia and instead adopt a more realistic approach toward the nation."

INDONESIA: "Putin's Tease To Bush On Democratic Issues"

Leading independent daily Kompas commented (2/26): "On human rights issues, [President Bush] criticized Russia's dealing with the Chechen separatist movement. The security personnel have been accused of acting ruthlessly, ignoring rights of the people in the region. But, not less interestingly, President Putin responded with the criticisms of the West, the U.S. in particular, by teasing that the U.S. had manipulated democratic issues to pursue their foreign policy. Putin's tease strengthened the claim from other parties that the U.S. has adopted a double standard in its global democratic and human rights campaign. It was also interesting that Putin pushed for the understanding of the realities in Russia before one discusses the implementation of democratic principles. Putin's call again revived the discourse on how democratic values and human rights should be implemented based on the conditions of a society."

SOUTH ASIA

IRAN: "The Heightening of International Political Moves Regarding Iran: Putin's Double Game"

Reformist E'temad opined (2/26): "The meeting between the American President George Bush with his Russian counterpart was held in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. According to the published reports, the two sides have reached agreement that Iran should not gain access to nuclear weapons. In his meeting with Bush, Putin stressed that the cooperation between Moscow and Tehran in nuclear field is only limited to the peaceful use of nuclear technology. After that meeting Bush said: 'That meeting had some positive results. We reached agreement about protecting nuclear and bacteriological weapons in both Russia and America and throughout the world. Associated Press reported that that the Russian and American presidents stressed that Iran should not have any nuclear weapons. Pointing out that they had agreed that Iran should not have any nuclear weapons, Bush stressed: "Together we had some very constructive talks about how to achieve that common goal." After holding talks with Slovakian officials, Bush said that he and European leaders had common views about keeping Iran away from nuclear weapons. He also said that he would mull over their proposals about offering some incentives to Iran."

WESTERN HEMISPHERE

ARGENTINA: "Agreements With Moscow"

Daily-of-record La Nacion editorialized (2/25): "At least on the outside, Bush and Putin saved face and reached an agreement at the expected 'summit', by agreeing to maintain conventional and nuclear weapons away from terrorists, but most likely addressed other sensitive issues, such as the situation of political rights in Russia or its support for Iran's nuclear development, on which there was no agreement.... Both Presidents were cautious. They expressed certain complaints, but tried to avoid these differences from undermining the best relationship they managed to build between former Cold War rivals, which now cooperate to fight international terrorism. Similarly, their collaborators signed agreements to counteract nuclear terrorism and restrict the access of portable missiles, capable of hitting airplanes. Nothing was mentioned, instead, on Bush's intention aimed at pressuring Putin to intensify change towards a democracy in Russia."

"Bush And Putin Seek To Overcome Differences In Slovakia"

Daily-of-record La Nacion opined (2/24): "According to the head of the Russian Foreign Relations committee, Mikhail Marguelov, 'the truth is that there were never more differences than now on key issues.' The Bush-Putin agenda is complex. Bush wants to talk about more liberties in Russia, peace in the Middle East, support for what took place in Iraq, a joint fight against terrorism and discouraging everything that has to do with the development of nuclear technology in countries that do not accept international inspections. And Putin is much more interested in facilitating Russia's incorporation to WTO and agreements to sell nuclear fuels to Iran, an idea that horrifies Bush. As backdrop, there's Bush's preaching on 'the promotion of freedom in the world,' recently endorsed by Europe, which sparks suspicion in Putin when he views it as an instrument to pressure its foreign policy. With this perspective, the meeting doesn't appear simple. Pessimists believe it may be pointless--like a dialogue of the deaf. On the other side, confidence is placed on the 'good personal relationship' between both leaders.... But here, everybody knows that Putin is upset with Bush's brand new understanding with European leaders, full of critical expressions against Moscow, the delay in the democratization process of his country and the support he gives Iran by selling nuclear fuel which will be used to develop its nuclear industry."

BRAZIL: "A Diplomatic Bush"

Liberal Folha de S. Paulo editorialized (2/28): "One of the principles ruling world peace consists in maintaining tensions on a level in which conditions for negotiation and dialogue subsist. In this aspect, the meeting between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin last week in Slovakia was exemplary.. Putin has already shown that he is a politician with authoritarian trends.. Aware of such a negative portrait, Bush avoided confrontation. U.S. diplomacy historically does not want to cut communication bridges with Moscow. Washington will continue to support Russia's membership in the WTO and pretend to accept the Russian thesis that barbarisms committed against civilians in Chechnya are part of the strategy to fight terrorism.. Bush, a character that is now trying to appear more sensitive to diplomatic rules, played a conciliating role. This is good for the international community."

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