By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
May 06, 2005
Bush will start his latest diplomatic tour in Riga, Latvia, before traveling to the Netherlands, Russia and Georgia and returning to Washington late Tuesday.
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the trip is intended to "honor the shared sacrifice of millions of Americans, Europeans and others to defeat tyranny, and at the same time, to mark the growth of democracy throughout Europe and the world, more generally.
"The trip will also underscore the common commitment of the United States and our European allies to work together to advance freedom, prosperity and tolerance in Europe and beyond."
The five-day trip, the third overseas venture of the president's second term, already has ruffled some diplomatic feathers. In a letter to three Baltic leaders in advance of his visit, Bush noted that he was heading to the region to celebrate the end of World War II. While the conflict's end resulted in freedom for millions, he added that, "The war also marked the Soviet occupation and annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the imposition of communism."
The statement struck a nerve in the Kremlin, particularly since the Russian president reportedly was already annoyed that Bush's itinerary includes stops in Latvia and Georgia. Officially, Russia maintains that the former Soviet satellites were not annexed _ just allies _ and that troops were introduced at the time with the consent of the countries' leaders.
Washington brushed off the ado.
"Russia is someone who we have good relations with," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. "We have a good strategic relationship with Russia. We work very closely with Russia in a number of areas, whether it's trade, economic issues or our cooperation in the global war on terrorism, and our cooperation on stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction."
But it's also true, McClellan added, that the end of World War II marked the beginning of "communism and occupation" in the Baltics, resulting in a "very painful history."
With that in mind, McClellan said, Bush will offer remarks on the importance of advancing freedom and democracy.
"Freedom is about rule of law and protection of minorities and minority rights," McClellan said. "It's about an open and inclusive society that is based on tolerance. And it's about building the structures for freedom to really be sustained. And that's one of the things the president will focus on in his remarks."
Bush will be in Moscow on Monday to take part in commemorations of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany 60 years ago. The event will include a massive military parade through Red Square, with Bush in the reviewing stand.
Bush and Putin have had their differences of late, with Bush expressing concerns about Russia's apparent move away from democracy. But the two describe each other as friends, and the visit will involve a get-together to exchange views.
May 9 is considered the most significant day on the Russian calendar, marking the end of the "Great Patriotic War" in which 27 million Soviet citizens died. Putin is looking to use the occasion to showcase his effort to re-establish Russia as a world power.
Putin reportedly will host 55 world leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and, perhaps, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.