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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 May 2005, 19:59 GMT 20:59 UK
Bush flies in to Russia tensions
As the US and Russian presidents prepare to stand shoulder to shoulder in Moscow to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, underlying tension over Russia's post-war legacy remains.

President George W Bush flew in to Moscow on Sunday for a private dinner with President Vladimir Putin ahead of the ceremony on Monday.

In front of the cameras, the two presidents seemed extremely relaxed.

But the talks were expected to be tense particularly following Mr Bush's comments in Latvia on Saturday that the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe was "one of the greatest wrongs of history".

Bush driving Putin's car
There was no sign of tension as Bush drove Putin's Soviet-made car

In the same speech, he had also praised Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia for keeping up a "long vigil of suffering and hope" during almost 50 years of Soviet occupation.

The US has backed the Baltic states' latest call for a Russian apology for those years.

Mr Putin has refused. He has noted that the Soviet-era authorities had themselves criticised the pact which handed the previously independent Baltic states to the Soviet Union, thus rendering a fresh apology unnecessary.

He has also stressed the role the Russians played in the liberation of Europe, defeating the Nazis at immense human cost.

Indeed, Mr Bush said he had come to Moscow to express America's gratitude. The people of Russia suffered incredible hardship, he said, but their spirit never died out.

Nonetheless, it is also thought he will use his trip to the country to press his counterpart on what is widely seen in the West as backsliding by Russia on democratic reform, says the BBC's Sarah Rainsford.

He is expected to urge Russia to respect democratic values both at home and with its neighbours.

Downplaying tension

In an earlier television interview, Mr Putin said the US should question its own democratic ways before looking for problems with Russia's.

"In Russia, the president is elected through the direct vote of the whole population. That might be even more democratic," Mr Putin said on CBS.

President Bush and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Bush's speech in Latvia did not please the Russians

Interviewed ahead of the presidents' meeting, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was keen to downplay the tensions, saying President Bush would not be "lecturing" Mr Putin on democracy.

While the two might discuss issues such as "democracy in Europe and also in Russia" they would not be delving into a historical dispute on Russia's post-war takeover of the three Baltic states.

"I think it's highly unlikely this is going to be a source of tension in their meetings," she said.



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