Vladimir Putin prepares to beat down doors of Bush's home

When Russian President Vladimir Putin pulls into this seaside tourist town Sunday, he will be treading a path traveled by the likes of Britain's John Major, Israel's Yitzhak Rabin, Poland's Lech Walesa and Jordan's King Hussein.

Visits by those world leaders to George H.W. Bush's summer home on Walker's Point punctuated his presidency and continued after he left office.

But none of those visits had the import of this one between the current President George W. Bush and Putin, which comes as relations between the two countries are strained over issues including a planned U.S. missile shield in eastern Europe.

But no matter how the meeting turns out, the Bush-Putin get-together and the worldwide news it generates are sure to be a winner for the town's principal industry - tourism.

"Because we're a tourist-based economy, it's tremendous public relations," said Dick Leeman, president of the Chamber of Commerce for Kennebunkport and neighboring Kennebunk. "All the major news teams will be here, and the dateline will be Kennebunkport, Maine. You can't buy that kind of publicity."

After the visit was announced a month ago, the chamber began fielding inquiries from potential tourists hoping to be in town at the same time, Leeman said.

"They want to try to get a glimpse of President Putin or they want to see our president. And 41 (former President Bush, the 41st president) is famous for striper fishing or just being out on his boat, and people just want to get a glimpse of him," he added.

The boost the Bush family has provided the local economy extends to souvenir shops. Bush-related postcards, mugs, pens and key chains, along with golf balls and shot glasses bearing the presidential seal, share the racks with kitsch decorated with moose and lobster, Maine's symbols. Fans of each of the Bushes also can choose from baseball caps bearing the numbers "41" and "43."

For some tourists, no visit is complete without picture-taking outside Walker's Point, the century-old Bush family home on a rocky spur into the Atlantic Ocean.

Ron and Vi Pierce of Sanger, Texas, said they would like to have caught a glimpse of the former president strolling on the lawn, but they were thrilled nonetheless to see where he spends his summers.

"It's awesome to see the ocean and to see the home of someone who has served our country," Vi Pierce said.

It is unclear what recreation may be on the Bush-Putin agenda. The Bushes enjoy golf, fishing and boating; the younger Bush went mountain biking during a previous visit.

"There's always a lot of phony camaraderie at these meetings," Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations said in an e-mail. He recalled that the two leaders rode in an antique Soviet car during Bush's last visit to Putin's place outside Moscow, and that there was square dancing when Bush first entertained Putin at his Texas ranch in 2001.

As with most visitors to Walker's Point, Putin is sure to get his fill of lobster.

"It's the typical menu. If it's lunch, it's lobster. If it's dinner, it's lobster and swordfish," said the former president's personal chef, Ariel de Guzman, who will work with the White House staff in preparing the meals.

Kennebunkport also has been a focal point for demonstrations because of the Bush presence, and anti-war activists began mobilizing when the Putin meeting was announced. They say they expect at least 2,000 demonstrators for a rally and march.

Organizer Jamilla El-Shafei said the primary target is Bush but Putin will not get a free ride. "There will be people coming with signs saying 'Chechnya Equals Iraq,' because these are two leaders who think they are czars and are occupying countries they shouldn't be in," she said.

Tight security is commonplace during presidential visits, including street closings and even a prohibition on lobstermen emptying their traps in a cove near the Bush family home.

"If you're a native and you're trying to get around, forget it. The roads are blocked off, and the others are carrying heavy traffic," said resident Barbara Storer.

One sidelight to the visit that has not gone unnoticed is the area's reputation as a haven for retired intelligence officers, including some who once matched wits with Putin's former employer, the Soviet KGB.

Storer, a former CIA employee and president of the local chapter of the Association For Intelligence Officers, joked that Putin would be a good speaker for a chapter meeting.

Allan Swenson of Kennebunk, also a former military intelligence officer, said the Putin-Bush meeting is a positive sign.

"The world changes," he said. "At one point they were the enemy and we were providing weapons to Osama bin Laden, Stinger missiles to shoot down Russian helicopters. Now he's the enemy, and the Russians are seeing the world in a different way."