The American and Russian presidents seemed determined not to cast a cloud over Monday’s celebration in Red Square of the 60th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat – a victory that cost the Soviet Union nearly 27 million lives.
“It is a moment where the world will recognise the great bravery and sacrifice the Russian people made in the defeat of Nazism,” Bush said, sitting beside Putin.
“The people of Russia suffered incredible hardship, and yet the Russian spirit never died out,” he added.
In their private talks, Bush even complimented Putin on a speech that raised eyebrows in Washington last month, when the Russian leader said the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.
US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the leaders had a “straightforward talk” about Russia’s tensions with the Baltic countries and Russia’s internal problems.
But he characterised the approach as “a little explanation to make sure the president (Putin) understood the message” Bush was presenting when he was in Latvia over the weekend and in the former Soviet republic of Georgia on Tuesday.
Mostly, Hadley said, Bush emphasised areas of agreement and the belief that it was also time to move on to the many other elements of the relationship that are important.
“They (Bush and Putin) talked about the need that one cannot flirt with terrorism or terrorists. I think that was really the essential issue here because they’re very concerned about the Palestinian situation”
While the US president had prodded Russia earlier to accept responsibility for Soviet annexation of the Baltics and welcome democracies on its borders, Hadley said: “We certainly don’t characterise it as lecturing. And in the conversations I was in neither did President Putin.”
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Bush and Putin found wide agreement on the Middle East, support for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and a joint determination to fight terrorism.
“They talked about the need that one cannot flirt with terrorism or terrorists,” Rice said. “I think that was really the essential issue here because they’re very concerned about the Palestinian situation.”
She said the countries would consult on the training of Palestinian security forces.
Bush and Putin also discussed Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran, among other issues.
Russia is building a nuclear reactor in the Iranian city of Bushehr and the United States fears this could lead Tehran to develop nuclear weapons.
Putin wants the US to first
However, US officials accept for now Russian assurances that no enrichment or reprocessing will take place, and that any spent fuel rods will be returned to Russia.
Relations between Bush and Putin have soured lately amid US unhappiness with Russian missile sales to Syria and crackdowns on business, as well as Moscow’s complaints of American meddling in its traditional sphere of influence.
Even before Bush’s arrival, Putin appeared increasingly irritated by Bush’s criticism of Russia’s treatment of its former republics and his push for democracy along Russia’s borders.
Putin said in an American television interview that the United States should question its own democratic ways before looking for problems with Russia’s.
The Russian leader also has rebuffed calls from Bush and others for an apology for what they see as the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.