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Opposition Leader Says Bush Speech 'Cautious' On Russia

PRAGUE, June 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov has described U.S. President George W. Bush's speech during the international Democracy and Security Conference as "cautious" on Russia.

During his June 5 speech at the Prague conference, President Bush said Russia has "derailed" once-promising reforms, and also likened the United States' relationship with Russia with that of China.

Not Harsh Enough

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL following the speech, Kasparov noted that Bush's words "were just a little bit harsher than previously."

But overall, he said, the speech contained "a lot of words about democracy, about democratic values, but all the same when matters turn to Russia, Bush was cautious."

In his speech, Bush also said that there are "fundamental elements that all democracies share," listing freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly and "political parties that compete in free and fair elections."

"These rights and institutions," Bush said, "are the foundation of human dignity."

Kasparov, who heads the opposition party Other Russia and plans to run for president in Russia's March 2008, election, has in recent months been detained after participating in a protest and on May 18 was prevented from boarding a flight to attend a sanctioned opposition rally outside the EU-Russia summit in Samara.

Too Close For Comfort

Saying that "Russia, in terms of its state structure, doesn't belong to the ranks of democratic countries," Kasparov explained that Russia's opposition would benefit more if the West would end its "support" for President Vladimir Putin.

"We are not asking for any help for ourselves," Kasparov said. "We are asking for an end to this de facto unspoken, informal support for Putin. 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."

President Bush has invited Putin to visit the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, in early July. And Putin was the first head of state to visit the U.S. president's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

In a separate interview prior to Bush's speech, Kasparov told journalists that inviting Putin to the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, from June 6-8 "created a very bad atmosphere" for the opposition in Russia.

"Any time we are trying to criticize Putin and to look at his record, sending the message to the Russian people that Putin has destroyed democratic institutions, Kremlin propaganda shows these pictures" of foreign leaders with Putin, Kasparov said.

After Bush's speech, Kasparov explained to RFE/RL that "continuing to provide Putin with democratic regalia simply torpedoes our efforts inside the country."

Outside Voices

Throughout his address, Bush stressed the important role that dissidents have played in the effort to foster democracy, and took time during his visit to meet with many of them and Kasparov.

"It is clear that [President Bush] was listening to what we said," Kasparov said, "but in the one or two or three minutes that he spent on conversations with the representatives of various countries it is hardly likely that something is going to change in his worldview."

The Kremlin has rejected Bush's criticism. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking to journalists in Germany ahead of a G8 meeting, said on June 5 that "Russia is a democratic country that shares common world and common European values."

(RFE/RL correspondent Brian Whitmore contributed to this report)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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