President Bush spent a long week practicing diplomacy in Europe, where relations have been more strained than usual because of differences over Iraq. Mr. Bush ended the trip in Russia, where President Putin seems to have backed away from democratic reforms by cracking down on dissent and on independent businesses.
President Bush raised his concerns about the health of democracy in Russia, but he said he still trusted his friend, and understood Putin's position that democratic reforms had to be adjusted to Russian concerns about stability and the economy.
"A lot of people were watching President Bush at this summit to see if he lived up to the promise he had made during his inaugural -- to press for democratic reforms even when it's difficult with friendly government. Did he meet the test with Putin?"
"It was right and necessary for President Bush to raise the subject of democracy and civil liberties in Russia. However, Putin is not Mugabe. Russia meets what Natan Sharansky has called 'the public square test.' If you walk into Red Square, you probably can say pretty much what you want without being arrested. It was right to say this is on our minds. But, on the other hand, it was absolutely right not to allow it to dominate the agenda or spoil or relations with them."
"Putin gets upset when he gets criticized for anti-democratic practices. He says, 'We have democracy in our own way.' It reminds me in some way of the way the Chinese get upset. These two countries are both bidding to become major players on the world stage. They want to be members of the World Trade Organization. If you're going to do that, you have to show in some way that you're going to be part of the solution and not part of the problem."
"Putin is beset by difficulties at home. Just this week military groups held a protest demanding that the military get more money, and complaining about the encroachment of NATO into what they consider the rightful sphere of Russia. So what does Putin do? He does not take the opportunity to play to this group of Russians. Instead, he reiterates the importance of democracy."