By Tom Raum July 11, 2006

“There are a lot of things we have to talk about, one of which will be democracy, one of which will be energy security,” stated President Bush.

While in Russia, President Bush will ‘speak frankly but privately’ with Russian President Vladimir Putin about recent Kremlin moves to restrict political and economic freedom, Bush’s national security adviser said Monday. But Stephen Hadley stopped short of suggesting that Bush would follow the course of Vice President Dick Cheney and confront Putin openly about backsliding on democracy.

‘There are a lot of things we have to talk about, one of which will be democracy, one of which will be energy security,’ Hadley told reporters in a briefing on the president’s trip this week to St. Petersburg for the annual Group of Eight economic summit. Clearly, there are issues ‘on which we don’t see eye-to-eye,’ Hadley said. Cheney, in a strongly worded speech in Lithuania in May, accused the Putin government of taking steps away from democracy and bullying his neighbors on energy.

But with the G-8 summit approaching, and the U.S. looking to Russia for help on North Korea and Iran, the president’s criticism of Putin was expected to be far more muted.

Richard McCormack, who was an undersecretary of state for economic affairs in the administration of the first President Bush, said the White House is honoring the two ‘unwritten traditions for economic summits.’

The first is that the host country sets the agenda. ‘The second … is that you don’t embarrass the host,’ said McCormack, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

Bush will meet separately with civil society leaders in Russia on a trip that also will take him earlier in the week to Germany.

Hadley also said Bush and Putin would discuss a U.S. decision to open discussions with Moscow on an agreement that could let Russia house spent nuclear fuel. However, Hadley said any discussions this week in St. Petersburg would just represent the beginning of talks. ‘It will take months to do,’ he said.

Putin has been seeking ways to expand Russia’s role in the multibillion nuclear power business by storing spent fuel, including nuclear fuel provided by the U.S. to third countries.

In the past, the U.S. has opposed such a role, insisting on reclaiming the fuel itself. But it was seen as another issue on which the U.S. is reaching out to Russia in exchange for help on curbing the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. ‘We’re at the very early stages of this,’ Hadley said. He called it ‘an idea that’s been around for over a decade.’

A top Putin aide, Igor Shuvalov, told U.S. reporters in a phone briefing last week from Moscow that Russia hoped to win final U.S. approval for Russia’s bid to enter the World Trade Organization as part of a Bush-Putin meeting in advance of the G-8 summit.

But Hadley told reporters Monday that it wasn’t clear ‘if we can close the deal’ by then, adding, ‘Several issues remain, a couple that are pretty tough.’ Bush, meanwhile, welcomed news that Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev had apparently been killed in a truck explosion in southern Russia.

‘If he’s in fact the person who ordered the killing of children in Beslan, he deserved it,’ Bush said.

He made the comments in a roundtable interview with reporters from Russia, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Basayev, 41, is believed responsible for modern Russia’s worst terrorist attacks. They include the seizure of a Moscow theater in 2002 in which dozens of hostages and militants died, the 2004 school hostage taking in Beslan that killed 331, and the seizure of about 1,000 hostages at a hospital in Budyonnovsk that killed about 100. He was killed Monday when a dynamite-laden truck exploded in his convoy, Russian officials said.