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Bush Crisscrosses Former Soviet Union


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

(Soundbite of band playing)

BLOCK: On a podium in front of Lenin's Tomb, with troops parading across Red Square and warplanes flying overhead, President Bush joined Russian President Vladimir Putin today in commemorating the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. It was an Allied victory over Hitler, but no country paid a greater price than the Soviet Union, which lost an estimated 27 million people in four years of fighting. The day was rich in symbolism, both in Moscow and in Tbilisi, Georgia, where President Bush is now, as he wraps up his five-day, four-nation trip. Joining us from Tbilisi is NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

And, first, let's talk a bit about the Moscow stop, Don, and the commemoration there. Tell us about how the morning went.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Well, there were some 50 leaders in all there for that big military parade. President Bush was right next to Russian President Putin on the viewing stand. The parade was remarkable, really, in a couple of ways. It felt a lot like one of those old Soviet-era Red Square military parades, but there was an American president up there, as you said, by Lenin's Tomb taking it all in.

But the other moment that's really worth highlighting here happened after the parade and after a more solemn ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. All of the leaders were walking along one of the walls of the Kremlin, and President Bush and Putin are in the front; they're side by side. Then up comes German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. He's kind of laughing with Putin, who responds and then points over to Bush, who laughs. Then up comes Japan's Prime Minister Koizumi, also laughing. They're sharing some kind of joke, he and President Bush. And the president has said that the value of this day is in what it says about how much the world has changed since 1945. Well, this picture drove that home: the leaders of the Allied forces, or today's version, Putin and President Bush, sharing a joke and sharing the day with the leaders of the former World War II Axis powers, Germany and Japan.

BLOCK: Well, President Bush has now moved on to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and Russian President Putin has got to be less pleased about that.

GONYEA: Yes, though when President Bush and Putin held a face-to-face meeting alone last night, the president's aides say it didn't really come up, though some Russian leaders, including Putin and the foreign minister, see a trip here by the president as meddling in the region.

BLOCK: Well, let's explain the backdrop of all of that. Why would this be a sensitive place for him to go? And what are the issues at stake here?

GONYEA: Well, the White House denies it, but it certainly feels like they consciously bookended the trip to Moscow to mark the anniversary of V-E Day with a couple of stops to new democracies. Earlier in the week it was Latvia, where much the talk was about whether Russia should apologize to the Baltic states for the Soviet occupation after World War II. This trip here is really more about the president. Georgia has tense relations, really, with Russia, and there's also an ongoing dispute about the presence of some Russian military bases that are still here.

BLOCK: Don, what will President Bush's trip mean to the people of Georgia?

GONYEA: One Georgian woman I talked to here tonight said this is perhaps the most exciting thing that they have ever had happen here. And if--they just got their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Now comes this first-ever visit by a US president. So they're very excited.

BLOCK: NPR's Don Gonyea in Tbilisi, Georgia, with President Bush.

Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.