Yesterday, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama met briefly at the APEC summit in Lima. The meeting was very brief and many observers have commented on the coldness with which the two leaders received each other.
It is in all likelihood the last time the two will meet before Obama leaves the White House. Today, President Putin has offered rather sobering comments on his dealings with Barack Obama first as Russian Prime Minister and more recently as President.
Putin said the following about his working and personal relationship with Obama:
We acknowledged that despite the fact that our dialogue was not easy – if truth be told, it was difficult to work with each other – but both President Obama and I noted that we have always respected the positions of one another, as well as each other.
Putin ended on a magnanimous note saying:
I thanked him (Obama) for all the years of mutual work and said, that if he finds it possible or has the desire to do so, we will be glad to welcome him in Russia any time.
Donald Trump said throughout his campaign that Putin did not respect Obama. Whilst Putin is typically too diplomatic to phrase his views in such a way, a subtle reading of his statement indicates the truth of Trump’s remarks.
By contrast, Putin said that he welcomes President-elect Trump’s desire to normalise US-Russia relations.
Obama’s condescending tone to Putin encapsulated America’s gross misunderstanding of Russia’s position and Russia’s power. At times Obama and his officials seemed to down play Russia’s significance as a mighty nuclear super-power. Obama once called Russia a mere ‘regional power’. At other times, Obama and his colleagues, portrayed Russia as some sort of force of global evil that must be stopped by any means necessary. The latter was an overriding theme of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The confused Obama administration knew not weather to portray Russia as a monster or as a mouse. Ultimately this confusion allowed people like Sergey Lavrov, Vitaly Churkin and Sergey Shoygu to run intellectual circles around the confused, manic and downright nuts, John Kerry, Samantha Power and Ashton Carter.
The reason that Putin and many in Russia did not respect Obama is because Obama neither respected nor understood Russian culture, history or indeed Russia’s inevitable political destiny. Even if Trump doesn’t fully understand what Russia has suffered historically and in recent years, he appears receptive to learning and he seems to be immediately respectful of the Russian nation and the Russian president.
It’s no wonder Putin said what he said. Here is their last handshake…