- President George Bush subjected Russia's Vladimir Putin
to a public lecture on the fundamentals of democracy yesterday, injecting
a chill into a relationship that has - until now - been characterised by
- Meeting in the Slovakian capital, Bratislava, Mr Bush
emerged from a three-hour meeting with the Russian President joking and
smiling and full of warm words. But his frequent references to
and the "fella" were peppered with targeted criticism of the
state of democracy in Russia with which the more hawkish members of his
administration are said to have lost patience.
- An unsmiling, visibly irritated Mr Putin squirmed as
he listened to Mr Bush tell a press conference he had been told that
had "concerns about Russia's commitment in fulfilling" the
principles" of democracy. "Democracies always reflect a country's
customs and culture, and I know that," Mr Bush said. "Yet
have certain things in common; they have a rule of law, and protection
of minorities, a free press, and a viable political
- Mr Putin had wanted to talk about the two countries'
joint efforts to combat terrorism but was forced instead to defend his
domestic reforms and his commitment to democracy.
- For a man who is seldom subjected to such face-to-face
criticism and is famously cool under pressure, he looked at times as if
he was about to lose his composure. "I respect some of his [Mr Bush's
ideas] a lot and take them into account. Others I won't. [Such issues]
should not be pushed to the foreground. New problems should not be created
that could jeopardise our relationship. We want to develop the
- Russian officials tried to play down the tension by
the two men's relationship had matured to a level where they could now
tell each other things they did not want to hear.
- The two men could not, however, have looked more
- Mr Bush looked satisfied that he had obliged Mr Putin
to justify his views on democracy and claimed a statement from the Russian
leader vowing not to roll it back was the meeting's most important
- Mr Putin said: "Russia chose democracy 14 years
ago without any outside pressure. It made this choice for itself, in its
own interests and for its people and its citizens. It was a definitive
choice and there is no turning back." A return to totalitarianism
was impossible, he added.
- However he indulged in none of the informal small talk
beloved of Mr Bush and looked relieved to exit the stage with a stiff
his face taut with pressure. In Russian official circles, the meeting is
likely to be seen as a humiliation.
- Mr Bush also used an earlier speech to revel in the
of revolutions in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia,
which Moscow opposed. Mr Bush said he hoped for similar progress in Belarus
and Moldova. Agreements did emerge. These were to prevent Iran and North
Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons, to safeguard nuclear facilities in
both countries, to regulate the sale of shoulder-fired missiles and to
accelerate Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation.
- ©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.