Hopefully President Bush has improved his soul-reading skills while in office. During his first year as president he famously proclaimed that he'd acquired a sense of Vladimir V. Putin's soul and found him to be trustworthy.
When Bush looks into Putin's eyes today during their meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, he should try to divine whether Putin is now capable of reversing course and putting Russia back on the path toward greater freedom and becoming a mature democracy. That's Bush's oft-proclaimed goal in countries great and small, but one growing more distant in Russia.
For much of Bush's first term, relations with Russia offered the White House little grief. Putin's initial moves to stabilize the country, an effort made easier by Russia's rising oil revenues, were applauded. Despite his perfunctory opposition to the war in Iraq, Putin sold himself to Washington as an ally in the fight against Islamist fundamentalism, and he marketed his war in Chechnya as a front in the global war on terrorism. Putin practically endorsed Bush for reelection.
The relationship is likely to sour in Bush's second term. It needs some souring, in light of Putin's recent autocratic behavior. On Monday, Bush rightly warned Moscow it needs to "renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law" if it wants good relations with the United States and Europe. The admonition was the latest in a deserved series of public expressions of U.S. concern about increasing Kremlin control over the media, parliament, regional governments, the legal system and the economy.