Bush Stresses Need for Strong U.S.-Russian Relations

By David McKeeby
USINFO White House Correspondent

Washington –- Although the complexity of the U.S.-Russian relationship has at times led to disagreements, the two countries should maintain open relations and work together on a variety of issues including nonproliferation, energy and climate change, President Bush says.

“I think if you look at the history of our relationship, there’s been some moments where we’ve agreed and moments where we disagreed.  That's what happens when you've got nations that are influential,” Bush told reporters June 6 prior to a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of Eight (G8) Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.

The G8 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. (See Group of Eight.)

The United States has proposed deploying 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a supporting radar station in the Czech Republic to forestall a future ballistic missile threat from the Middle East or other areas.  Russian political and military officials have criticized the plan, which they say undermines Russia’s strategic deterrence and could start a new arms race.

“I think it’s important to make sure we have a system to protect ourselves against the threats of the 21st century,” Bush said.  These include "rogue regimes using a weapon of mass destruction to either blackmail and/or attack allies and friends; [terrorist] cells moving through our societies with the intent upon killing; radical forces undermining young democracies," he continued.

Although Bush has sent both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Moscow to discuss the issue, Putin suggested in a June 1 interview that Russia would target the European installations if completed.

Bush stressed that the proposed missile defense program "is not aimed at Russia" and invited Russia to join the program, pledging “total transparency” should Russian military officers and scientists choose to participate. (See related article.)

“Russia has enormous capabilities in the field of missile defense, as do we,” National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said in a separate briefing June 6.  “This seems to the president to be a natural area of collaboration.”

Bush said that building a strong personal relationship with Putin has been a priority for him so that he can discuss more openly issues of mutual concern.

Bush declined to speculate whether rhetoric over missile defense was tied to Russia’s elections, scheduled for March 2008, but said that if so, “it does say something about the state of the political scene in Russia.”

Bush said Putin is taking steps to invest Russia’s energy wealth in development programs. Bush added that he hoped such actions would create the conditions for future reforms, as would future membership in the World Trade Organization.   

“Society has advanced a long way from the old Soviet era. There is a growing middle class, there is prosperity,” Bush said, later adding that “if you consider where it's come from, it has made substantial progress toward a freer society.”

Bush said he looked forward to meeting with Putin at the G8 and again July 1-2, when the leaders are scheduled to spend time together at the Bush family retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine. Although Bush has received Putin at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, Putin is the first leader he has invited to the compound long associated with his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

A transcript of Bush’s remarks is available from the White House Web site.

A transcript of Hadley's remarks is available on USINFO.

For more information, see Russia.