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Putin to Meet with Bush at NATO Summit

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Russia's president joined the NATO summit today with a long list of grievances. At the top of Vladimir Putin's list, NATO, a foe during the Cold War, has promised two former Soviet republics eventual membership in the alliance.

Russia's shadow has loomed over this year's summit in Bucharest, Romania, making itself felt in nearly every decision taken. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is in Bucharest and joins us to talk about that. Hello.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Hello, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, I gather relations between Russia and the West have been chilly over this plan to expand NATO into what Russia frankly thinks of as a little too close - Ukraine and Georgia.

POGGIOLI: That's right. And but, you know, today we just had - Vladimir Putin just held a press conference here, and he said he was very satisfied. He said that the dialogue had been constructive and that it covered a wide range of security issues and that a spirit of compromise had prevailed. He reiterated, though, his opposition to NATO expansion that would include Ukraine and Georgia, two former Soviet republics. He said a powerful military alliance on Russian borders would be perceived as a direct threat to his country's security, and he said future relations between Russia and NATO depends on how NATO takes into consideration Russia's needs and shows readiness for compromise. He insisted that the dialogue not be built on empty promises, which he said we've heard so many times in the past.

But as a sign of Russia's goodwill and desire to work with the West, he pointed out that he had signed a land transit agreement here today with NATO, which will allow use of Russian land to deliver non-lethal supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan and it'll cover everything from food to certain military equipment.

MONTAGNE: Which NATO, of course, will see as a big help there in Afghanistan. Back to the question of Ukraine and Georgia - even NATO is split over their candidacies to join the alliance, and NATO nations seem to be split over how to deal with Putin's Russia as well.

POGGIOLI: In fact it was a rather strong clash here. The White House did try to sort of dampen it down, but looking at the European media, you see quite a different take on this. The German media in particular described Chancellor Angela Merkel as very upset and even angry at how assertive President Bush was in pressing for Ukraine and Georgia. The opening working dinner lasted two hours beyond schedule and was said to be very spirited, the usual euphemism. And at the communique drafting session, Merkel was surrounded by several East European leaders who pressed her to soften the language.

Nevertheless, if you look at the European media today, it underscores what they call Bush's defeat concerning Ukraine and Georgia at NATO.

MONTAGNE: Well, President Bush has more chances to talk to Putin. He's got several meetings coming up between now and Sunday. He's going to a Black Sea resort in Russia.

POGGIOLI: In fact, Putin has described this as a last chance for a heart to heart between the two leaders who are at the end - close to the end of their mandates.

Russian officials say - and Putin just said in his press conference - that missile defense will be high on the agenda. Yesterday NATO gave President Bush its backing for the planned U.S. missile shield to be set up in Poland and the Czech Republic, and President Bush will have the difficult task of again trying to convince Putin that the shield is not a threat against Russia.

And yesterday the NATO communique went so far as to say the system should be expanded with the participation not only of all NATO countries but also of Russia, to protect all of Europe.

MONTAGNE: Sylvia, thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, speaking to us, as you can hear, from the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And that's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, as you can hear at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.