Russia’s military and political pressures on Georgia, Moldova, and the Baltic states figured prominently in discussions on the eve and the sidelines of the Bush-Putin summit in Bratislava, but there was no indication that U.S. President George W. Bush raised those issues in his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. No mention was made of those issues during the concluding joint news conference or in a White House-distributed checklist of issues that were discussed by the two presidents on February 24.
On February 23, Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, in his capacity as summit host, listened thoughtfully and sympathetically to a representative group of pro-democracy activists and analysts, whose concerns he was asked to pass on to Bush along with a request to raise those issues with Putin the next day. Dzurinda candidly indicated that such issues as Russian troops in Georgia and Moldova, or inflammatory anti-Baltic propaganda from Moscow, were probably not going to be raised, because this summit had other priorities.
In his February 24 speech to the citizens of Bratislava in the central square, Bush included three mentions of Georgia’s democratic revolution, along with three mentions of the democratic revolution in Ukraine (White House press release, February 24). Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili commented in Tbilisi, “Never in its history has Georgia had so much [Western] support as it now has in order to be successful . . . never before has our country had such a good chance to get up on its feet” (Imedi Television, February 24).
That comment is amply substantiated on many levels; but, as one speaker noted in the analysts’ meeting, Georgia’s is a “democracy under the gun,” urgently needing to be made secure against Russian military blackmail inside the country and on its northern border. In the same meeting, which was open to the press, OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis expressed regret over the delays in initiating a Border Monitoring Operation in Georgia, in place of the Russia-terminated BMO. One of the Rose Revolution leaders, Giorgi Bokeria, now in parliament, informed that same meeting that Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov had the preceding week in Tbilisi raised manifestly unfulfillable preconditions to an agreement on military issues, in effect turning it from an agreement on troop withdrawal into one on the open-ended presence of Russian troops.
Also on February 24, just before going into the meeting with Putin, Bush held a brief reception in honor of leaders of East European freedom movements. In this meeting, Belarusians asked Bush to urge Putin to call on President Aleksandr Lukashenka to investigate the “disappearances” of opposition figures who are presumed murdered. Georgians asked Bush to convey the message to Putin that Russia should cease threatening Georgia. Baltic members of the European Parliament, who had led the liberation movements and then the restored states, asked that current Baltic concerns along with those of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, be raised with Putin (BNS, February 24). Clarification is now pending from the White House as to whether Bush has raised with Putin the issues of uppermost concern to those whom Bush honored as “Freedom Champions.”
In Chisinau on February 23, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin expressed hope that the next day’s summit would facilitate settlement of the Transnistria conflict, on a basis other than “federalization,” which Moldova rules out. At the same news conference, Voronin deplored heavy-handed Russian support for pro-Moscow parties in Moldova’s ongoing parliamentary election campaign (Moldpres, February 23). As in the case of Georgia, there was no indication from the U.S. side whether Bush had raised the issue of Russian troop withdrawal from Moldova with Putin in Bratislava.
It was Lavrov who stated, “Putin has [received] full agreement on the part of President Bush” regarding the need for “acting with reciprocal transparency” in Moldova and in Central Asian countries (Itar-Tass, February 24). Lavrov’s obscure comment appears designed to frighten Chisinau into concluding that some sort of deal was made at Moldova’s expense. Bush, in his public speech in Bratislava’s central square, briefly reminded Moldova that it “has the opportunity to place its democratic credentials beyond doubt as its people head to the polls.”