Russia Has 'Derailed' Its Reforms, Bush States

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

PRAGUE, June 5 -- President Bush declared Tuesday that Russia has "derailed" democratic reforms and that the United States would continue to press it on this issue. The remarks, his most pointed public comments about civil liberties in Russia, came at a time of heightened tensions with Moscow.

"In Russia, reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development," Bush said at a conference organized by current and former dissidents in Prague, scene of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that overthrew communism in what was then Czechoslovakia.

"In areas where we share mutual interests, we work together," Bush said in comments that he applied to Russia and China. "In other areas, we have strong disagreements." The audience included Vaclav Havel, a leading figure in the Velvet Revolution and first president of the Czech Republic, and Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident whose writing about the universality of liberty has been described by Bush as a major influence on him.

Bush's criticism followed several broadsides against the United States and its European allies by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials. They have employed Cold War-style rhetoric to object to a missile defense system that the United States wants to install in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Putin said over the weekend that Russia would consider re-aiming its missiles at targets in Europe if the United States proceeds with its plans.

Earlier in the day, while speaking to reporters alongside Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Bush sought to assuage Russian concerns about the system. He restated his position that it is meant to counter "rogue" states such as Iran that could attack Europe and urged Russia to join in the effort.

"It is a purely defensive measure aimed not at Russia, but at true threats," Bush said after emerging from a meeting with the Czech leaders at the 9th-century Prague Castle, which overlooks this city.

Bush plans to meet with Putin on Thursday at the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Germany and in July at the Bush family compound in Maine.

"My message will be, 'Vladimir' -- I call him Vladimir -- 'that you shouldn't fear a missile defense system,' " Bush said. "As a matter of fact, why not participate with us on a missile defense system? Why don't you cooperate with us?" Bush said Putin should send military leaders and scientists to the United States to review plans for the system.

Some analysts suspect Putin worries that the antimissile system could be expanded to counter Russia's much larger missile force.

On Tuesday afternoon, the White House e-mailed reporters a statement Putin made in 2000 to then-NBC anchor Tom Brokaw indicating support for a shared antimissile system.

"Such mechanisms are possible if we pool our efforts and direct them towards neutralizing the threats against the United States, Russia, our allies, or Europe, in general," Putin said in the interview. "We have such proposals, and we intend to discuss them with President Clinton."

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