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Today President Bush begins a trip into a historical minefield. He's traveling to Moscow to the capital of the US ally during World War II. There he'll mark the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The president is also stopping in two countries ruled by the former Soviet Union where, according to his aides, he will celebrate the defeat of Communism. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev says Mr. Bush is sending an important signal by coming to Moscow, paying tribute to the enormous sacrifices Russia made during World War II. But Kosachev is less enthusiastic about the fact that President Bush will start his trip in Riga, Latvia, where he'll meet with the leaders of all three Baltic states, two of whom refuse to attend the Moscow parade.
Mr. KONSTANTIN KOSACHEV (Russian Lawmaker): When countries like Russia and Baltic states, in this case, have a dispute on their history and on their current situation as well, to come there at that very moment is to take a position in this dispute.
KELEMEN: On the eve of his trip, President Bush sent a letter to his Latvian counterpart, noting that while the end of World War II meant the liberation of Western Europe, it also led to the Soviet reoccupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Ojars Kalnins of The Latvian Institute said that letter was icing on the cake.
Mr. OJARS KALNINS (The Latvian Institute): Whether the US says this is intended this way or not, it's a reaffirmation of our view of history. We've made it very clear that even though we're happy that Nazi Germany was defeated in 1945, for us, it meant the reinstating of Soviet rule for another 50 years.
KELEMEN: He said Latvia's president decided to go to Moscow for Monday's commemoration, hoping to engage this issue there.
For his part, President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, encourage Putin to publicly renounce a 1939 treaty signed by Hitler's and Stalin's foreign ministers that originally allowed the Soviet Union to annex the Baltics.
Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (National Security Advisor): One of the legislative chambers of the Soviet Union did, in 1989, renounce, essentially, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Obviously it would be an appropriate thing for Russia, now having emerged out of the Soviet Union, to do the same thing.
KELEMEN: But Washington hasn't managed to persuade Putin of this, and Hadley says the president doesn't want to dwell on the past during his trip.
Mr. HADLEY: Europe now is moving towards a Europe whole, free and at peace. We do share common values of democracy and freedom. While acknowledging the past, we ought to be talking about ways to move forward and advance those principles not only in Europe but also beyond.
KELEMEN: The Bush administration's push for democracy has been another source of tension with Russia. Some members of Congress have been pushing President Bush to take a much tougher line with Putin and even threatened to kick Russia out of the group of eight industrialized countries. Kosachev, who heads the Russian Parliament's International Relations Committee, said members of Congress told him that when they prod Russia, they're acting as friends. But Kosachev made clear that Russians don't like to be lectured publicly.
Mr. KOSACHEV: When you get fat, for example, only a real friend may come up to you and tell you. Either you may come up to a friend and whisper to him or you may just stand up at the corner of the square and start screaming, `Look at that man. He is getting fat. He should have a diet, and he should think about it.' It will never work.
KELEMEN: Aides to President Bush say he'll bring up democracy issues privately with Vladimir Putin in Moscow. His big speeches on democracy are expected in Latvia and in Georgia, his last stop, where Mr. Bush will address a crowd in Freedom Square, the site of that former Soviet Republic's Rose Revolution a year and a half ago.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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