b>George W. Bush came to the White House after a table-turning campaign in which he flipped a charge of “Cold War mentality” back on his opponent. The Clinton administration, he said, and the Russian leadership as well, showed Cold War thinking when they behaved as if Russia were still the superpower the Soviet Union had been. A Bush administration, he insisted, would not treat Russia with more importance than it deserved.

That determination will be tested at President Bush’s first summit with President Vladimir Putin, scheduled for June 16 in the tiny Alpine nation of Slovenia.

Putin, for his part, behaves as if his personal energy can restore Russia’s power, prestige and prominence. Over the next six months, the Russian president will scale the peaks: summits with the United States, China and India. These meetings follow closely on summits with the European Union, Japan and Iran, as well as dozens of lesser powers.

With the United States, China and India, missile defense is a central issue. Since they took office, Presidents Putin and Bush have moderated their country’s positions. Russia no longer says that U. S. development of an antimissile system would necessarily provoke a new Cold War, and the United States no longer says that it does not care what Russia thinks.

President Bush in a May 1 speech on missile defense promised consultations with Russia, and Russia in response emphasized its readiness to enter a new round of nuclear-arms talks that would include missile defense on the agenda. Tomorrow and Friday Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov will attend a NATO meeting in Brussels, and they will surely make time to prepare this issue for the June 16 summit.

India’s foreign minister has just left Moscow after talks that no doubt touched on U. S. missile-defense plans (the Indians surprisingly do not disapprove) and preparations for a Russia-India summit in the fall.

If Moscow and New Delhi both move toward some kind of acceptance of U. S. missile-defense plans, China (whose missiles are, let’s face it, the real concern) will be diplomatically isolated. Isolation for China is not untenable, but it is uncomfortable, and the United States will look hard at what it can do for Moscow to bring it about. That gives Putin leverage and gives Russia the diplomatic importance he deeply believes his country should have.