George W Bush last night risked damaging relations between America and Russia still further after he claimed the Putin presidency had "derailed" once-promising democratic reforms.

Coming on top of the nuclear missiles row, the US President's words seemed guaranteed to sour the atmosphere of the G8 summit at Heiligendamm on Germany's Baltic coast, which begins today.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who is hosting the conference of world leaders, will try to keep the focus on the key agenda issues of climate change and aid to Africa. However, one misplaced word on the US-Russian spat is likely to upset the diplomatic apple-cart.

Speaking in Prague, Mr Bush declared: "The Cold War is over", stressing that Russia was "not the enemy". However, he later criticised how Vladimir Putin had run his country, saying: "In Russia, reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed with troubling implications for democratic development."

Earlier this week, the Russian President described himself as the world's only "pure democrat" and criticised America for Guantanamo Bay and the country's "hyper use of power".

Missile shield storm

Ian Bell