Bush and Putin: The Price of Friendship

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Secret Service agents now know that when Russian President Vladimir Putin is the tour guide, they're going to have their hands full. While giving President Bush what was supposed to be a carefully scripted tour of the Kremlin grounds, Putin decided to take his guest to see his private study. On the way the two leaders found themselves abruptly plunged into a crowd of hundreds of Russian tourists in the Kremlin's Cathedral Square. As panicked agents scrambled to protect Bush and his wife, a White House official was heard shouting above the din, "I can't find the President!"

But Moscow was a breeze of official events compared with St. Petersburg, Putin's hometown. The Russian leader insisted on guiding Bush through a dizzying day of sightseeing in the grand, canal-crossed city. Bush, normally more comfortable with baseball on TV and pickup tours of his Texas ranch, took in Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son at the Hermitage and a ballet at the Mariinsky Theater. At the Hermitage, Putin was asked whether he considered Bush an "art lover." Putin replied, artfully, that the perception in Europe that Americans don't appreciate art is "deeply mistaken." By day's end Bush's entourage had seized back control of the schedule. Putin had planned a late-night boat tour along the city's famed rivers and canals, to begin at 1 a.m. For the early-to-bed Bush, that was a diplomatic problem. "We may be friends," said a White House official, "but this was something to go to war over." After some negotiating, the tour was pushed up to 9 p.m., and Bush was back in his hotel by 11:30.