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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Will Prod Putin at G8 Summit

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush said he would raise concerns about Russia's record on democracy at the G8 summit in July, but that he believed Moscow understood its interests lay in working with the West.

Some U.S. lawmakers have suggested that the United States consider boycotting the summit of the Group of Eight industrial nations in St. Petersburg.

But Bush said Wednesday that that would deprive him of an opportunity to talk candidly with President Vladimir Putin about U.S. concerns.

"I think that would be a mistake for the United States not to go to the G8," Bush said. "Because I need to be in a position where I can sit down with him and be very frank about our concerns."

Critics say Russia is backsliding on democracy by neutralizing political opposition, weakening the media and curtailing freedom of expression.

"I've worked very hard to convince Vladimir Putin that it is in his interest to adopt Western-style values and universal values -- rule of law, freedom of religion, the right to people to assemble, political parties, free press," Bush said during a question-and-answer session after a speech to Freedom House, an independent organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world.

"I spend a lot of time with the president making it clear that he should not fear democracy on his border nor should he fear democracy within his borders," Bush said.

Russia accuses the United States of promoting global democracy in an attempt to establish itself as the dominant power on former Soviet soil.

Bush defended his approach toward Putin by recalling a meeting with rights activists in Moscow last May. "I remember meeting with human rights groups in Russia," Bush said. "And I asked them what strategy should I take as the president of the United States. Should I be in a position where I can engage the president in frank discussion? Or should I, you know, publicly scold him? In which case he may turn a deaf ear.

"And the universal consensus for them kind of played to my own instincts, which is that it is important for the United States to be in a position to be able to express our concerns," Bush said.

Bush also said other nations relied on the United States to argue on their behalf with Putin, and that he would not want to lose that ability by offending Putin by not attending the G8. He said it was in their interest for him to be in the position "where I'm able to walk into the room with the president of Russia and him not throw me out."

 U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the best safeguard against an authoritarian government in Russia would be a balance of power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

"When there is too much concentration of power in the executive with authority and power in either the legislative or the judiciary, then you are setting up conditions for authoritarianism," Rice told a conference of the American Society of International Law on Wednesday.

Jose Alvarez, president-elect of the group, responded: "I was very encouraged to hear the secretary praise separation of powers. There is concern about this much closer to home."

The crowd of legal scholars and lawyers broke into applause.

(Reuters, AP)