WASHINGTON – President Bush said Wednesday it would be a mistake to boycott a summit in Russia this summer to protest the Kremlin's crackdown on democracy.
"I haven't given up on Russia," Bush said. "I still think Russia understands that it's in their interests to be West, to work with the West and act in concert with the West."
Bush said he talks in private with President Vladimir Putin about Russia's crackdown on internal dissent, and that publicly scolding the Russian leader might cause him to turn a deaf ear to criticism.
Russia, for the first time, is to host the annual summit of the Group of Eight powers, a club of leading industrial democracies. Bush has been urged by some groups to stay away from the meeting in St. Petersburg because of Russia's backsliding on democracy.
"I think it would be a mistake for the United States not to go to the G-8," Bush said. He said he needed to be in a position to sit down with Putin "and be very frank."
"I spend a lot of time with the president making it clear that he should not fear democracy on his border or democracy within his borders," Bush said.