Bush Trip Brews Russian Tension

President Bush is greeted by Latvian President Vike Freiberga, right, as he arrives with first lady Laura Bush in Riga, Latvia, Friday, May 6, 2005. AP

President George W. Bush, ignoring Moscow's objections about his trip to former Soviet republics, said that Russia should treat its neighbors with respect and not fear the rise of new democracies along its borders.

Bush on Friday opened a fast-paced four-country, five-day journey to mark the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The president will meet on Saturday with the leaders of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. For these Baltic countries, the end of World War II did not bring liberation. Instead, they traded Nazi oppression for nearly five decades of Soviet domination.

"This is a bittersweet moment for a lot of people in America who are from the Baltics," Mr. Bush said.

CBS News Correspondent Bob Schieffer he'll bring it up with Putin when they meet, which is sure to irritate the Russian leader who has called the collapse of the Soviet Union a catastrophe. Tensions are on the rise between the leaders, which was made clear by the president's visit to Latvia despite Putin's protesting.

Mr. Bush said he has reminded Russian President Vladimir Putin about that history, ahead of the victory celebrations. "Frankly, it's the beginning of a difficult period, and I can understand why some leaders of countries aren't going and some others are," the president said. He spoke in a series of pretrip interviews with television outlets in countries he will visit.

Lithuania's President Valdas Adamkus and Estonia's President Arnold Ruutel say they will stay home when dozens of world leaders — Bush included — go to Moscow for a parade Monday in Red Square to honor Russia's enormous sacrifices to defeat the Nazis.

Bush's trip has been clouded by Moscow's unhappiness about his stops in two former Soviet republics, Latvia and Georgia, which the Russians see as interference in its neighborhood. The president also will visit the Netherlands as well as Russia. Bush said he would tell Putin he should welcome peaceful democracies on Russia's borders.

"And so I will remind him that this is not a plot by anybody or any nation," Bush said. "This is just the inevitable course of humankind because all humans want to be free."

Mr. Bush said the three Baltic countries, as new members of NATO, have a security guarantee from the United States and its allies. Bush said he speaks with Putin frequently about the Baltics.

"And my job at times is to send a message that says, look, treat your neighbors with respect," Mr. Bush said. "Free nations, democracies on your border, are good for you — whether that be, by the way, in the Baltics or in Ukraine, I've sent that same message — or Georgia. In other words, countries that are free countries are countries that will be good neighbors."

And that message can apply to anywhere in the world. Putin believes the Iraq war has spawned more terrorists and that the war was perhaps Mr. Bush's biggest blunder.

In an exclusive interview to be broadcast on 60 Minutes on Sunday, Putin tells Correspondent Mike Wallace that the U.S. should question its own democratic ways before looking for problems with Russia's.

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