Watch Your Back, Bush

George W. Bush evidently has a problem and its name is Vladimir Putin (search).

Rumblings out of Putin land have not been terribly cheerful lately. A few weeks ago Putin was quoted as saying, "The collapse of the Soviet Empire was a catastrophe, and perhaps Russia was not better off with Sovietism dead and buried."

That was strange. I thought we all agreed that it was better not to have the evil empire lurking around with its ballistic missile submarines threatening us all.

Then Putin tells "60 Minutes" — which will air Sunday — that Bush should keep his mouth shut about democracy. That democracy doesn't travel well, and it has to be organic, and Bush can't go around planting democracy here and there and everywhere.

This is as Bush is headed off to see Putin, and also drop in on a few former Soviet satellite states to encourage democracy there.

Evidently, Putin doesn't like Bush's travel itinerary and he's speaking up about it.

And Putin got aggressive with Mike Wallace — I guess I like that part — saying, "America' s democracy isn't so great. Russian voters elect the president, but in America you elect electors, the Electoral College, and you had to have a court decide the outcome in 2000."

Yes, Mr. Putin, but we don't have a thousand year history of czars. We haven't had one single Stalin (search) who killed 20 million of his citizens to maintain power, and we have yet to have an archipelago of gulags.

But Putin is clever and he's powerful, and he's ticked at Bush for wandering around in Putin's back yard preaching democracy.

So this is a problem. Is it the cold war all over again? Probably not — at least not yet.

But it shows that some of the old evil empire impulses haven't completely disappeared in Russia, and the fact that Putin — the former KGB (search) colonel — still pines for the days of the Soviet Empire suggests we still have a ways to go before we can say we're completely out of the woods with the Russians.

So here's wishing Bush luck on this trip and, George, watch your back. Vladimir might not be quite the pal you first thought.

That's My Word.

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