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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May, 2005, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
Bush trip a tough diplomatic test

By James Coomarasamy
BBC News, with President Bush

As President George W Bush heads for Europe to take part in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the World War II, in Washington there is general agreement that this will be the toughest test yet of his second term in office.

Poster of President Bush goes up in Georgia
The White House says there is no hidden message in the trip

The centrepiece event remains the military parade on Red Square on 9 May - when the US president will be among 56 world leaders, paying tribute to the sacrifice of an estimated 27 million Soviet troops who died in the conflict.

His predecessor, Bill Clinton, did not attend the parade on the 50th anniversary of VE Day, in protest at Russia's war in Chechnya.

So Mr Bush's presence is - to a degree - a public relations triumph for Vladimir Putin.

Less welcome for the Russian leader, though, is the fact that on the eve of the Moscow events Mr Bush will be meeting the leaders of Lithuania and Estonia; two countries which are boycotting the parade.

Strained relations

With the backing of Washington, the three Baltic States have been pushing the Kremlin to apologise for their annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940.

It is a tricky, nuanced diplomatic task for a president, who is perceived as often having a black and white view of the world

So far, the Russians have declined the offer.

From Russia, Mr Bush flies to Georgia, where he will become the country's highest profile visitor since its Rose Revolution of 2003.

Moscow has traditionally been wary of any US intervention in countries such as Georgia, which it considers to be within its sphere of influence and Mr Bush arrives at a time when Tbilisi's relations with Moscow are worsening.

He will tread warily, but will use the location to reflect on one of the central themes of his presidency; the onward march of freedom and democracy.

It will be an uncomfortable time for Mr Putin, who is facing growing American criticism for his attitude towards democratic institutions and who spoke nostalgically about the Soviet Union, in his recent State of the Union address.

Black and white view

The White House says there is no message in the president's itinerary, but Mr Putin will see an implicit and highly symbolic one.

That is, from the US point of view, that the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the defeat of the Nazi regime were both victories for freedom.

At the same time, Mr Bush will seek to avoid overly antagonising the Russians, so he will raise issues of concern to the Kremlin on his travels.

He will urge Latvia to protect the rights of its Russian-speakers and Georgia to forgo ideas of military intervention in its troubled region of South Ossetian, which has close links to Moscow.

It is a tricky, nuanced diplomatic task for a president, who is perceived as often having - in public, at least - a black and white view of the world.

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