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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Well, they might be trying to dial back, but it's still looks like a pretty testy meeting tomorrow. In recent weeks the Russian president has warned that Moscow may aim missiles at Europe for the first time since the Cold War.

NPR's Gregory Feifer reports.

GREGORY FEIFER: As Moscow reasserts its status as a world power, one issue has come to dominate its growing anger with Washington: American plans to install parts of its missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland, both former Soviet bloc country that are now members of the European Union and NATO.

During his visit to the Czech Republic on Tuesday, Mr. Bush dismissed Moscow's claim the missile shield will be targeted at Russia. He said the system will be purely defensive, aimed against possible attacks from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The Cold War is over. It ended. The people of the Czech Republic don't have to choose between being a friend of the United States or a friend with Russia. You can be both.

FEIFER: Moscow isn't buying that line. Speaking to reporters from several G-8 countries ahead of the summit, Russian president Vladimir Putin reiterated Russia's concern the missile defense system would change the entire configuration of international security.

President VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Russian spoken)

FEIFER: We didn't start this new arms race in Europe. What will Russia's response be, Putin asked? Naturally we'll have to have new targets in Europe.

Mr. Bush downplayed that threat today, saying Russia is not going to attack Europe. But Moscow's anti-American rhetoric is alarming Washington. Putin recently compared the United States to Nazi Germany and says the American missile shield would turn Europe into a powder keg.

In a show of force last week, Moscow test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile it says is meant to evade defensive shields. But missile defense is just one of many issues deeply dividing Russia and the West. Rose Gottemoeller of the Moscow Carnegie Center says it's the topic under which Moscow has drawn a red line.

Ms. ROSE GOTTEMOELLER (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): I think it was the straw that broke the camel's back. They had gotten increasingly frustrated over the last couple of years that they didn't think the United States was paying sufficient attention to their concerns on a number of issues.

FEIFER: Issues like NATO's expansion into the former Soviet bloc and the Iraq war, both of which Moscow fiercely opposed. The tone was much more conciliatory early in Putin's presidency. After September 11th, Putin supported the American war against terrorism and new American military bases in formerly Soviet Central Asia.

Boris Makarenko(ph) of the Center for Political Technology says the Kremlin feels it got nothing in return.

Mr. BORIS MAKARENKO (Center for Political Technology): (Through translator) Now there's talk about expanding NATO into the former Soviet Republics of Georgia and Ukraine. On top of that, the United States is stepping up its criticism of Moscow on human rights and democracy.

FEIFER: This week's G-8 Summit was supposed to have been the last official meeting between Mr. Bush and Putin, both of whom are building their legacies before leaving office. But their last goodbye will now take place next month. Bush recently invited Putin to visit his parent's compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Carnegie's Rose Gottemoeller...

Ms. GOTTEMOELLER: You know, I actually think for change that the G-8 Summit might be getting some attention to its own agenda rather than this raft of bilateral U.S.-Russian issues simply because there's an opportunity for the two presidents to meet within a three-week time period.

FEIFER: But as Mr. Bush and Putin prepare for their next meeting tomorrow, there are signs the split between Russia and the West is moving beyond issues and into a deeper ideological rift. In Prague yesterday, Mr. Bush said Putin has derailed Russia's once promising democratic reforms, But during his recent interview, Putin denounced the West's record on democracy and called himself the world's only pure democrat.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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