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President Bush will have an especially demanding houseguest this weekend. The president will be at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, and he will be meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian president has been attacking the United States with bitter rhetoric in Cold War style.

NPR's Gregory Feifer reports on what Putin is saying and what he may want.

GREGORY FEIFER: Putin's rhetorical assault against the United States began in earnest last February during a conference in Munich. In the presence of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he accused Washington of spreading tension and violence around the world.

Earlier this month, Putin implicitly compared the United States to Nazi Germany, and in another broad sign to Washington last week, he said the Soviet Union's worst crimes were no worse than events in any other country.

President VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Russian spoken)

FEIFER: At least we didn't use nuclear weapons against a civilian population, he said, in an obvious reference to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II. We didn't spray thousands of miles with chemicals or drop seven times more bombs than used in World War II on a small country like in Vietnam. Russia believes its new oil wealth entitles it to great power status after a decade of post-Communist decline and feels Washington hasn't been taking it seriously.

Moscow is especially upset over American plans for a missile defense system that would install parts of the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin has threatened to aim Russian missiles at Europe in response. During a visit to Moscow earlier this week, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that threat doesn't fit into the spirit of Russia's partnership agreement with NATO.

Secretary General JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (NATO): In this already fairly complicated discussion it is advisable to lower the volume a bit on the public comments made by one or the other. Because, as it is with your iPod, if you put the volume too high, it will in the long run damage your ears.

FEIFER: The Kremlin has dismissed Washington's explanation that the missile defense system is meant to stop attacks from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, saying the shield would really be aimed against Russia. At the top of the agenda this weekend will be Putin's offer to use a Russian radar installation in Azerbaijan instead of the planned sites in Eastern Europe.

NATO chief De Hoop Scheffer said the Soviet-era radar isn't capable of serving as an alternative to the existing missile defense plans. But last week, Russian military Chief of Staff Yuri Baluyevsky said Washington has no reason to turn down the offer.

General YURI BALUYEVSKY (First Deputy Minister of Defense; Chief of Russian General Staff): (Through translator) If we don't get a positive response to our proposal, then everything will be clear about against whom the system will be directed. And not only we, but the whole world will know. It's a litmus test.

FEIFER: Some analysts say Russia's offer is meant to throw a wrench in Washington's plans. But Sergei Rogov of the USA and Canada Institute says Moscow is serious about its proposal.

Mr. SERGEI ROGOV (Director, USA and Canada Institute): We're ready to bargain, but we want the bargaining process to be a two-way street and not just the United States telling Russia how to behave and if we don't follow this advice, we will be punished.

FEIFER: Among other issues seriously straining U.S.-Russia relations is independence for Kosovo, which Moscow opposes. Outwardly, Mr. Bush and Putin retain friendly relations. Putin is the only leader to have been invited by Mr. Bush to his parents' compound in Kennebunkport. But behind the public smile so far there's been little sign the downward spiral in U.S.-Russia relations will reverse anytime soon.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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