U.S. President George W. Bush told the press Saturday in Riga that May 9, 1945 had a dual meaning for the Baltic states and that for him the years after the war up to 1991 were tantamount to Soviet occupation.
He stopped short, however, of saying he would encourage Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize the occupation.
"My attitude towards this issue is very clear and, speaking about the occupation, the attitude of my country has been very clear since the moment when the occupation took place. We still retained flags of your independent [Baltic] countries above your embassies during that period. We never recognized that occupation," Bush said at a joint press conference with the three Baltic presidents.
At the same time he encouraged everyone to look toward the future.
"I think that this historic moment allows us to look back to the past and move on. I fully understand your angerâ€¦ speaking about this issue, about the occupation. I have explained it to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, but he understands it. He understands that you have anger, but I hope that we can transfer to another phase of history -- that in which we can speak about free society," said Bush.
The U.S. president said he was proud to stand next to representatives of the three Baltic states who are good friends and allies. What's more, he said what the Baltic states managed to accomplish in the 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union could serve as a model to others.
"We live in very unusual time. The three Baltic states are capable of helping Russia and other states in this region to understand the benefits given by freedom. Therefore, we have a very big chance to move away from the past and move on to the future."