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Bush sees tensions between Russia and West
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said on Monday a lot of tensions exist between the West and Russia and voiced skepticism about Russia's path to democracy under President Vladimir Putin.
"My message to Vladimir Putin is there's a better way forward, and your interests lie in the West, and we ought to be working together in a collaborative way," Bush told Reuters in an interview.
Putin appeared to have compared the United States to the Third Reich earlier this month and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week after meeting Putin in Moscow that the two countries had agreed to tone down their rhetoric.
Putin has been upset at U.S. plans for a missile shield in Europe that he considers aimed at countering Russia but which Bush says is to counter the potential threat of missile attack from renegade states.
Bush, after famously looking into Putin's eyes at their first meeting and seeing someone he could work with, has gradually become disillusioned by the direction Putin has been taking Russia but tries to maintain good relations with him.
He renewed U.S. concerns about an erosion of the rule of law and free press in Russia. "Just some of the decisions he's made have sent mixed signals to the West and mixed signals to me," said Bush.
The two sides have been unable to bridge differences over U.S. plans to put 10 missile interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic as part of a system to shield Europe from missile attack from renegade states.
Bush and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, during talks at Bush's Texas ranch on Monday, said they would work to try to ease Russia's concerns about the missile shield.
Bush said he sent Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Moscow to try to reassure Moscow about the missile shield, with the message that "we're not your enemy."
"You know, people in his government harbor suspicions about our intention, and I was trying to allay those suspicions. But there is a lot of tension with Russia, particularly with Europe now, that Russia is using her energy and denying market access to different countries, for example, Polish meat," Bush said.
Bush said he still is close to Putin personally but said "it's a very complex relationship" between the U.S. and Russian governments.
"He thinks they've got a democracy emerging there in Russia. Obviously there's a lot of suspicion about that, and I look forward to continuing to talk to him as to why he thinks his country is on the path to democracy. It looks like at times it's not to me," he said.
Bush, who will likely see Putin at a Group of Eight summit in Germany June 6-8, said he would be willing to "listen more about why he thinks that what he's doing is democratic in nature."
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