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The Wall Street Journal: The G-8’s Cold Spring

By Tim Annett: June 5, 2007 5:04 p.m.

Vladimir Putin may not tear off his shoe and begin pounding on the table Nikita Khrushchev-style at this week’s Group of Eight summit. But relations between Moscow and the West have scarcely been frostier since the Cold War.

Early today, President Bush sought to reassure Moscow that it has nothing to fear from the proposed missile shield that the administration wishes to install in Eastern Europe. Over the weekend, Mr. Putin, the Russian president, said in an interview that if Washington went ahead with its plans to install equipment for the shield in the Czech Republic and Poland, then he would retaliate by retargeting his missiles toward Europe. Mr. Putin accused the U.S. of trying to install bases and weapons around the old Soviet bloc in an effort to lure Russia into a new arms race. Today, Mr. Bush said that “Russia is not the enemy.” Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin will have a face-to-face meeting on the sidelines of the G-8 gathering, and speaking to the media in Prague, Mr. Bush said he would tell his Russian counterpart that “the Cold War is over. It ended.” He said, “My message will be: ‘Vladimir — I call him Vladimir — you shouldn’t fear a missile defense system. As a matter of fact, why don’t you cooperate with us on a missile defense system?” Washington says that the shield is intended to protect against attack by Iran or other rogue or terrorist elements, and Mr. Bush vowed to make it open to scrutiny by Russian military officials and scientists.

At the same time, however, the Bush administration is concerned that Moscow is throwing around its vast energy wealth to draw political concessions from its neighbors, and trying to tighten Kremlin control over various energy projects in Russia that have been driven by Western firms. Last year, Moscow appeared to shove Royal Dutch Shell and its Japanese partners out of the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas venture to give control of the project to state-run energy giant Gazprom. In the weeks leading up to this week’s G-8 summit, Moscow also appeared poised to swoop in on a BP-run energy project in Siberia, but decided to put off action on alleged regulatory matters until after this week’s meeting — likely an attempt to avoid a confrontation over the issue with Western powers. European Union members have been striking an increasingly unified line on Moscow, and many of Mr. Putin’s once dependable friends in the EU, like French President Jacques Chirac and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, have been succeeded by more skeptical leaders. Relations between Moscow and London have been hurt by the investigation into the polonium poisoning of a former Russian spy. The U.K. is seeking extradition of a suspect from Russia, but Moscow has refused.

Though Mr. Bush frequently speaks warmly of Mr. Putin and has even invited him for private talks at the Bush family estate in Maine next month, Mr. Putin has routinely criticized Washington on matters ranging from economic policy to the Iraq war to the detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay. For the most part, the Bush administration has avoided responding with sharp criticism of its own. But after the easy tone offered earlier, Mr. Bush took a much harder stance toward Russia later on, charging Moscow has “derailed” once-promising democratic reforms. The president was addressing a conference that was hosted by Natan Sharansky, a former prisoner of the Soviet Union and author of “The Case for Democracy,” a book that Mr. Bush had admired and handed out to top aides and allies, and the former Czech President Vaclav Havel, a leading figure in the Velvet Revolution that toppled Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. Mr. Bush painted his approach as tough love. “America can maintain a friendship and push a nation toward democracy at the same time,” Mr. Bush said. “Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our disagreements.”

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