SOCHI, Russia, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush held a farewell summit on Sunday in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, but warm handshakes and smiles are apparently not be enough to bridge the gap between the two countries, ties between whom have witnessed a slide in recent months.
As both Putin and Bush were winding up their terms, this summit was expected to be their last face-to-face chance to mend the frayed ties, which have been driven to a low by such issues as U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Kosovo and Iraq.
DISPUTE OVER U.S. MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM
The thorniest issue is the U.S. plan for building a long-range missile defense system in eastern Europe, Russia's concerns regarding which were renewed and deepened after the plan won NATO endorsement at a recent summit.
A NATO statement, issued after the summit this week, called on members to explore ways in which the planned U.S. shield could be linked with future missile defense systems elsewhere.
The leaders "recognize the substantial contribution to the protection of allies from long-range ballistic missiles to be provided by the planned deployment of Europe-based U.S. missile defense assets," the statement said.
Washington says the plan, which includes the installation of nine interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, aims to guard against missile attacks from "rogue states" and not to treat Russia as the suppositious enemy.
Moscow, however, terms the system a threat to its security despite such assurances from the United States.
"We closed our bases in Cam Ranh Bay (in Vietnam), on Cuba, we took our bases out of Eastern Europe. And what did we get? (U.S.) Bases in Romania, bases in Bulgaria, the missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland," Putin told a press conference Friday in the Romanian capital Bucharest, after attending the NATO-Russia Council meeting.
"This is all the movement of military infrastructure towards our borders," he said.
Putin said the shield was an evidence of Western military might creeping toward Russian borders, something he said should have been consigned to history when the Iron Curtain fell.
Putin had earlier said the missile issue would be discussed at the Sochi summit, but the While House ruled out the possibility of reaching a deal this time around.
"We are going to have to do more work after Sochi," Dana Perino,a White House spokeswoman, said on Bush's Air Force One as it headed to Russia.
When asked about the prospects of a deal on the missile issue, she said that "would be premature."
RUSSIA'S OPPOSITION TO NATO EXPANSION
NATO's eastward expansion is foremost among other issues that have stood in the way of a warming of Russia-U.S. ties.
Ever since NATO's first eastward expansion in 1999, when Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined the group, Russia has vehemently opposed such moves.
Turning a deaf ear to Moscow's opposition, NATO enlarged several times to include 26 nations, before formally including Croatia and Albania as new members earlier this week. Macedonia can join as soon as its name dispute with Greece is settled.
But what has aroused greater Russian concern is Bush's thwarted attempt at the recent NATO summit to put Ukraine and Georgia, two neighbors of Russia, on an immediate path to NATO membership. The bloc, however, decided to keep its doors open for the two countries.
Despite saying "let's be friends, guys" to NATO countries, Putin has been reluctant to alter Russia's attitude towards the bloc's expansion.
"Against whom does NATO exist?" he challenged, saying that circumstances have greatly changed since NATO's creation.
"The emergence of the powerful military bloc at our borders will be seen as a direct threat to Russia's security," Putin said Friday in Bucharest.
"I heard them (NATO leaders) saying today that the expansion is not directed against Russia, but it's the potential not intention that matters," he said.
"The efficiency of our cooperation will depend on whether NATO members take Russia's interests into account," he warned.
STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK TO GUIDE FUTURE TIES
Bush and Putin, in spite of several outstanding issues, signed a "strategic framework" to guide future bilateral relations after the one-day summit.
Perino said the framework would deal with security cooperation, nonproliferation issues, anti-terrorism and economic matters.
Despite his alert on the U.S.-led move aimed at Russia by the Western military, Putin seems unwilling to see a return of the Cold War, and has thus put forward some suggestions for cooperation with the West, for instance the joint use of a radar in Azerbaijan, and coordinated its actions with the West in some aspects, such as agreeing to facilitate the transit of supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan across Russian territory.
At a news conference after meeting with NATO leaders Friday, Putin said none of "the global players -- Europe, the United States or Russia -- is interested in returning to the past."
"And we have no ideological differences," he added.
What Putin wants is to enlarge Russia's influence on the international stage, defend the national interest as much as possible, develop Russia's economy and promote its comprehensive national strength and, at the same time, try to seek cooperation opportunities with the West despite differences with it.
Bush earlier said he hopes for "heart-to-heart" approaches in his last heads-of-state meeting with Putin, scheduled to be succeeded on May 7 by Dmitri Medvedev, who analysts believe will continue with his predecessor's domestic and foreign policies.
The 28th meeting between Bush and Putin over seven years, by Russia's count, more or less signaled some gesture for improving mutual ties. But the summit appeared to see more broad language than detailed achievements, as the two countries have been at odds over major strategic matters which are too significant to be bridged by just gestures and smiles.