| President George W. Bush with Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) at the latter’s residence on Sunday. (Reuters)
Moscow, May 8 (Reuters): President George W. Bush flew to Moscow today to attend a World War II anniversary and headed for talks with President Vladimir Putin likely to be strained over US calls for Russia to be more democratic.
Bush will be among more than 50 world leaders at a Red Square parade tomorrow to pay homage to the huge part played by the Soviet Union in the defeat of Nazi Germany 60 years ago.
Russian police, interior ministry troops and special forces cordoned off Red Square and the nearby Kremlin for fear of attack from Chechen rebels who have marked Russia’s May 9 Victory Day in the past with deadly bomb attacks.
Bush, on a four-nation European tour, flew in from the Netherlands, where he paid tribute to the soldiers who died to free Europe from the Nazis and said a new generation was working to bring liberty to West Asia.
Almost 27 million Soviet citizens were killed in what Russia calls the 'Great Patriotic War'.
'The cruelty (of Nazism) was beyond the limits of human understanding and is the worst crime against humanity known to us,' Putin told a meeting of veterans tonight.
But sharp US criticism of his record on democracy and the sympathy Bush has shown for complaints by the Baltic states about relations with Russia have given the celebrations an uncomfortable edge for Putin.
'The issue of common values and how Russia’s democracy progresses is ... an important issue on the agenda,' secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said on board the presidential plane flying to Moscow.
'I think the President (Bush) has made a very good case that while we need to acknowledge the painful history, it’s now time also to honour the memories of those who sacrificed, by moving on and building strong, free democracies.'
In the Latvian capital of Riga yesterday Bush called the Cold War division of Europe after 1945 one of the greatest wrongs of history. Putin, by contrast, said last month the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union was the 20th century’s biggest geo-political catastrophe.
In an interview with CBS television show 60 Minutes Putin rejected such criticisms.
'In the United States, you first elect the electors and then they vote for the presidential candidates. In Russia, the President is elected through the direct vote of the whole population. That might be even more democratic,' he said.
But he said he would appeal for unity at tomorrow’s ceremonies.
Putin is hosting a private dinner today evening for Bush and his wife ' a fact that Rice said underscored the friendly relationship between the two Presidents.