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Bush in Moscow to mark victory in Europe

U.S., Russian presidents talk democracy, Baltic relations


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Differences are widening between Bush and Putin.

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- President Bush will attend a celebration in Moscow's Red Square Monday marking 60 years since the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II -- putting aside recent tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

Bush met Sunday night with Russian President Vladimir Putin and addressed U.S. concerns that Russia is moving away from democracy.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters the two men were "straightforward. They say what they mean and then they act on that."

But politics aren't the main focus for Monday, with planners predicting many thousands would attend a parade in Red Square.

About 2,500 veterans from World War II will be among the marchers, and thousands of others unable to march will be driven in vehicles.

More than 50 dignitaries, including Chinese President Hu Jintao and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, will be in attendance. Annan laid flowers Sunday at a memorial for victims of the war.

Much of the world marks May 8 as the anniversary of the announcement of the unconditional German surrender, long known as V-E Day (Victory in Europe).

Russia waited a day later to celebrate the end of what it called the Great Patriotic War, so May 9 became its V-E Day.

The Germans actually surrendered on May 7 in Reims, France, at the headquarters of the supreme Allied commander, U.S. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.

Russia lost an estimated 27 million soldiers and citizens in the war. Putin's family, like most Russian families, lost relatives.

"I am looking forward to the celebration," Bush said. "It is a moment where the world will recognize the great bravery and sacrifice the Russian people made in the defeat of Nazism."

Though U.S.-Russian relations have been strained in recent months, Bush and Putin were all smiles in a brief appearance before their meeting Sunday night, emphasizing their friendship.

Putin even invited Bush to drive his vintage automobile, a white 1956 Volga.

"I'm looking forward to working together on big problems," Bush said.

The Russian president said he hoped the discussions "will be helpful to us in addressing our domestic problems in both countries."

Putin questions U.S. system

But Putin also recorded an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," which aired Sunday evening, in which he rejected U.S. complaints about changes he has made and called aspects of the U.S. democratic system into question.

Asked about one change -- appointing regional leaders instead of having them elected -- Putin insisted it was not a move away from democracy.

Putin pointed to the U.S. Electoral College: "You first elect the electors and then they vote for the presidential candidates. In Russia, the president is elected through the direct vote of the whole population. That might be even more democratic."

Putin also cited the 2000 U.S. presidential election, ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.

"But we're not going to poke our noses into your democratic system because that's up to the American people," he said.

"Democracy cannot be exported to some other place," he continued. "Democracy must be a product of internal domestic development in a society."

Asked about the "60 Minutes" interview, Rice emphasized the positive.

"This is not an issue of lecturing Russia; it is that the United States and Russia have a deep and broad relationship. We'd like it to get deeper and broader. And the issue of common values and how Russia's democracy progresses is one of the issues on the agenda," she told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Moscow.

She said the United States "has a very strong separation of powers" and "is a mature democracy."

Bush's visit to Moscow marks the third stop in a planned four-nation, five-day trip celebrating the 60th anniversary of V-E Day. (Itinerary)

His visit is especially politically charged following a recent comment by Putin expressing nostalgia for the Soviet Union.

Putin has openly rejected Bush's assertions that Soviet states fell under "occupation" that stripped people of their freedoms in the wake of the war.

Bush's trip includes stops in the former Soviet states of Latvia and Georgia.

In a speech Saturday in the Latvian capital Riga, Bush referred to the "occupation and communist oppression" of the Baltic states. (Full story)

'Cordial' talks

The two men met alone except for their translators for about 40 minutes, and the conversations Sunday were "cordial, extensive, light-hearted at times," said U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

Topics covered included Russia's relations with the Baltics and Georgia, Hadley said.

Then, with Rice, Hadley and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and national security adviser Igor Ivanov present, the men met for another 45 minutes, Hadley said.

Dinner, originally scheduled to take 70 minutes, lasted more than two hours and included an impromptu tour of the compound's facilities, he said.

With the leaders' wives in attendance, topics of discussion included steps to advance the Middle East peace process, Iran's nuclear ambitions and United Nations "reform."

Earlier Sunday, Bush drew links between commemorating V-E Day and his own vision of spreading democracy. (Full story)

In Margaten, Netherlands, he hailed the continuing sacrifices of the common soldier and cooperation between Americans and Europeans for "bringing freedom and hope to places where it had long been denied."

Standing in the rain among the white crosses at Europe's third-largest cemetery for Americans killed in the war, he said, "We come to this ground to remember the cause for which these soldiers fought and triumphed."

Bush was joined by first lady Laura Bush, the Netherlands' Queen Beatrix and Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. The queen and Bush laid wreaths to honor the dead.

CNN's Dana Bash, John King and Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.


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