RIGA 's U.S. President George W. Bush lavished Latvia with compliments during his visit on Saturday, saying, "It's such a joy to come to the country that loves and values freedom."
To President Vaira Vike-Freiberga after their hour-long meeting, he added, "I admire your country's courage."
Later in the afternoon while speaking to journalists, he acknowledged the dual meaning of WW II for the Baltic states, for whom 1945 marked the beginning of almost a half-century of Soviet occupation. He said he was proud to stand next to representatives of the three states, who are good friends and allies of the Unites States and who have proved that a lot can be achieved in a short while since the regaining of independence.
The references have predictably angered Moscow, where Bush is scheduled to attend ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII. Russian politicians, including President Vladimir Putin, have decried attempts to rewrite history and accused the Baltics of trying to attract attention to themselves and away from their history of Nazi collaboration and current problems with national minorities.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post that appeared on Saturday, Vike-Freiberga hinted that the Baltic states were after an apology. "Russia would gain immensely by ... expressing its genuine regret for the crimes of the Soviet regimeâ€¦ Until Russia does so, it will continue to be haunted by the ghosts of its past, and its relations with its immediate neighbors will remain uneasy at best," she wrote.
This contrasts starkly with Putin's editorial that appeared in La Figaro on the same day. "Our Baltic neighbors ... continue to demand some kind of repentance from Russia," Putin was quoted by Reuters as writing. "I think they are trying to attract attention to themselves, to justify a discriminatory and reprehensible policy of their governments toward a large Russian-speaking part of their own population, to mask the shame of past collaboration."
Although it was unclear what ultimate affect Bush's words in Latvia would have on his visit in Moscow, it seemed clear that the leaders of the two superpowers are unlikely to see eye-to-eye on post-WWII history.
In a preparatory interview with a Latvian journalist in the White House, Bush admitted that the United States were also culpable for the Baltics' post-WWII fate in that presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman took part in the Yalta and Potsdam conference, which sealed the fate of the three countries.
Earlier in the day he and President Vike-Freiberga laid flowers at the Freedom Monument. The Latvian president awarded Bush the Three-Star Order, the nation's highest honor.