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27 Mar, 2008 06:15

Putin & Bush to bid farewell in Sochi

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart, George W. Bush, are to meet in the resort city of Sochi next week.

The presidents don’t meet that often, but every time they do they know how to make it quality time.

The last one-on-one meeting between the two leaders took place in July 2007, at Bush's holiday home in Kennebunkport on the U.S. Atlantic coast.

Apart from a good catch there were some bigger issues on the table that remain topical in U.S.-Russia relations today.

Washington’s accusation of Russia’s backsliding on democracy, different positions on Kosovo status, NATO’s expansion and finally U.S. plans to deploy a missile defence system in Poland and Czech Republic.
The U.S. says the system is aimed at possible threats coming from Iran and North Korea, but Russia opposes the move and calls it a threat to its own national security.
“Our General Staff and our experts think that parts of the AMD system in Europe do pose a threat to our security. If they are built we would have to react adequately, and might have to retarget some of our systems to those targets that threaten U.S.”, Vladimir Putin said.

>Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow's stance remains unchanged and the best solution for the U.S. and Russia is to develop international defence projects.

“We are convinced that the best way to ease all the concerns over the plans for a third positioning region would be a refusal to continue with these plans and a move towards a joint project involving Russia, the United States and European countries,” Lavrov said.

The meeting between the presidents in April will follow up on a recent visit by the U.S. Secretary of State and Defense Secretary, who held meetings with their Russian counterparts about a possible strategic agreement. Despite reported progress the meeting did not bring any concrete results.

But both sides say they will continue to engage  and a group of Russian negotiators is now in Washington ahead of the presidents’ get together.

During their years in charge, the two men appear to have developed a reasonably warm personal relationship.

Their meeting at times are more like family reunions than formal talks. Firm handshakes, warm welcomes & heartfelt hugs.

Bush has frequently referred to his high opinion of Putin, famously saying he had a good sense of his Russian friend’s soul.

“It makes it easier by the way. When there is a trustworthy relationship to be able to disagree but maintain common interests in other areas. So we’ve found our disagreements. As you know Putin is a strong straightforward pretty tough character when it comes to his interest. So am I”, George W. Bush said.
Although, policy differences might have chilled relations between the countries, the meeting at Russia's Olympic alpine resort will reveal if friendship can move mountains.