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President Bush’s Visit to Russia Highlights Concerns About Russian Democracy

President Bush, in St. Petersburg for the G-8 Summit, has recently raised concerns about the direction of Russian democracy.

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  • SIMON MARKS, NewsHour Special Correspondent:

    Presidents Bush and Putin met one another for dinner in St. Petersburg tonight, the formal start of a weekend that will see bilateral U.S.- Russian talks taking place alongside the wider G-8 summit.

    When they speak on background, U.S. officials say the White House is concerned over Russia's backsliding on democracy. But publicly, they hesitate to use that terminology, insisting that President Bush will make candid representations to the Russian leader, but only behind firmly closed doors.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: My own view of dealing with President Putin though is that nobody really likes to be lectured a lot. And if you want to be an effective person, what you don't go is scold the person publicly all the time, that, you know, you remind him where we may have a difference of opinion, but you do so in a respectful way, so you can then sit down and have a constructive dialogue.

  • SIMON MARKS:

    The White House has not always opted for that kind of soft approach. Just two months ago, Vice President Dick Cheney infuriated Moscow during a visit to the formerly Soviet Baltic nation of Lithuania. He rounded on Russia for briefly halting gas supplies to neighboring Ukraine, an economic dispute in which he accused Moscow of acting like a schoolyard bully.

    RICHARD CHENEY, Vice President of the United States: Actions by the Russian government have been counterproductive and could begin to affect relations with other countries.

    No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation. And no one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor.

  • SIMON MARKS:

    This week, President Putin hit back in a deeply personal manner. In an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, he equated the vice president's comments with his hunting accident earlier this year.

    VLADIMIR PUTIN, President of Russia (through translator): I think your vice president's expression there is like his bad shot on his hunting trip. I believe that the concerns do not look sincere, and therefore they are not convincing.