Bush-Putin summit in Sochi signals new tone.
A deal on missile defense could be part of a 'strategic framework' the presidents plan to sign Sunday, legacies in mind.
An extraordinary summit this weekend, initiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and agreed to at the last minute by President Bush, is widely seen as an effort to change the harsh tone that has characterized US-Russia relations in recent years.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Putin is coming off a minor triumph at this week's NATO conference, where Russian objections were key to deferring the US-backed membership bids of Ukraine and Georgia. Putin may be hoping to pull off a hat trick by persuading Mr. Bush to shelve a contentious scheme to install US missile defense components in Poland and the Czech Republic, or perhaps revive stalled arms-control talks.
But some experts say a compromise on the long-running missile defense dispute could also take shape as both presidents seek to shape their legacies in the final days of their eight-year terms.
"The differences between Moscow and Washington are totally bridgeable," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Both countries face the same enemy, which is the threat of terrorist missile launches. We need to find a formula to work together, and that necessitates some form of joint control or close consultation. We have not gone far enough to create such a quasi-partnership, but the presidents might start that process now."
At Putin's vacation home at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Russia will host the Winter Olympics in 2014, he will reciprocate Bush's hospitality when the two met in Kennebunkport, Maine, last summer. For both Putin and Bush, whose terms end in May and January, respectively, the Sunday meeting is likely to be the final opportunity to sift through their many differences and frame a positive legacy for that relationship.
Officials say they will sign a "strategic framework" pact, intended as a summary of achievements and a road map to future relations. Also on hand to greet Bush will be Putin's successor, Dmitri Medvedev, elected a month ago in a campaign which Western and Russian critics say was Kremlin-choreographed.
"This will be our last face-to-face meeting [as presidents]," said Bush in a tough exchange with journalists at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, on Wednesday. "You call it a [potential] diplomatic train wreck; I call it an opportunity to sit down and have a good frank discussion again."