- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Five days before President Bush meets with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, the White House urged Russia to renounce the Soviet Union’s decades-long domination of Eastern Europe in order to ease tensions with once-occupied countries.

The suggestion was made yesterday by Stephen J. Hadley, the White House national security adviser, as Mr. Bush prepared to leave tomorrow on a four-nation European trip centered on celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The main event will take place Monday when Mr. Bush joins Mr. Putin and more than 50 other world leaders at a military parade in Red Square.

It is a delicate assignment for Mr. Bush. He will pay tribute to Russia’s tremendous sacrifice — 27 million soldiers and civilians killed — and, at the same time, reach out to nations that fell under Moscow’s heel.

The president will open the trip in Riga, Latvia, where he will meet Saturday with the leaders of Baltic nations that were occupied for nearly five decades. The leaders of Lithuania and Estonia have refused to attend the Moscow ceremony because of Russia’s unwillingness to denounce the Soviet annexation of their countries.

At a briefing for reporters, Mr. Hadley said a Soviet-era branch of the parliament in 1989 had renounced the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the 1939 agreement that Soviet leader Josef Stalin made with Nazi Germany to divide Eastern Europe between the two powers.

“Obviously, it would be an appropriate thing for Russia, now having emerged out of the Soviet Union, to do the same thing,” Mr. Hadley said. He added that Mr. Bush’s emphasis would be to look forward, rather than backward, “and to focus on what now ties us together, that in fact Europe now is moving toward a Europe whole, free and at peace.”

Mr. Bush, in a letter to Latvia, acknowledged that the liberation of Europe from the Nazis also marked the long Soviet occupation of the Baltics. But the president stopped short of assigning blame to Russia.

“In Western Europe, the end of World War II meant liberation. In Central and Eastern Europe, the war also marked the Soviet occupation and annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and the imposition of communism,” Mr. Bush wrote to Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

Asked whether Mr. Bush considered this a particularly difficult trip in terms of its diplomacy, Mr. Hadley said, “Look, it’s a tricky world out there. There are a lot of challenges the world over.”

Mr. Hadley said that the trip was to celebrate the defeat of fascism and Nazism and that the schedule wasn’t designed “to send any message to Russia.”

Yet Mr. Bush’s emphasis on spreading freedom and democracy will invite comparisons with Mr. Putin’s quashing of dissent and consolidation of power.

Mr. Putin, a former colonel in the KGB, said in an address last month that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

Mr. Bush will travel to the Netherlands to speak Sunday at an American cemetery in Margraten. He will fly to Moscow later that day. He will travel to Tbilisi, Georgia, on Monday and return to Washington on Tuesday.

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