Bush Meets Putin

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, shake hands in Saint Petersburg, Russia
Q: Warm, fuzzy, cordial and I believe he also said that Putin is a man that can be trusted he (the President) can feel it in his heart. Is this really what he feels?

A: My favorite was Bush’s report that he looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his soul. I have an acquaintance in Moscow who’s the head of a very large political party and he sees Putin privately. Every time I go to Russia I say tell me, who’s Putin? He says, I’ll be darned if I know. And he is a Russian, but Bush got one look at him and saw his soul and said he knew who he was. Both of these leaders badly needed at home a happy performance. They gave each other a happy performance; they gave each other what they needed. That is what professional politicians do. The reality is, though the problems between these two countries are so great that none of this warm, fuzzy feeling that we saw following this meeting tells us anything about the trouble ahead.

Q: Putin was basically probing Bush to see where he was. This was his first time to really meet with him and he knew that foreign policy was not his strength. Was this a chance for him to do that?

A: I have no doubt. I have never had that kind of power, but I am sure that when you have the power to make decisions and you know that your decisions are going to provoke a reaction from the other side, you’d like to get a fix on the person who is going to do the reacting. I think both sides know pretty much the position of the other and how much they themselves are going to give. And I think both of these guys knew that this was not reality; that they were putting on a show. And it was a very good show by the way. They looked good. They sounded good. We all felt good, but there are two issues for example that are just in some ways implacable and trackable. One is missile defense. The Russians are just against it.

Q: “Now, it sounds like Putin was softening a bit on it. Saying let’s explore it a little bit more lets look at the alternatives for the first time instead of saying no way.”

A: “ The reason you heard this in Putin's voice is there is a dispute in the Kremlin among Putin’s advisors or maybe even Putin himself. One group says look, the train in America of missile defense has left the station and we can’t stop it so we should get the best deal we can. That’s Putin saying let’s discuss it. The other view is: Look, the Americans are going to wreck the entire security arrangements of Europe in the world. Therefore, we have to be very hard lined about that and the Europeans are going to be on our side because they’re against it. So we shouldn’t give Americans anything. So you heard a little bit of that too in Putin.”

Q: “And would the European allies is it because the rallying by Putin going to the leaders to try to get them against America?”

A: “No, the Europeans don’t like this missil defense program because it dismantles or potentially dismantles about thirty- three existing historical, but still in force arms control agreements. Another words, what you are really doing is your risking stability of arms control which we have today for a system that may not work and may bring instability. The Europeans don’t like that, but one other point here. In some ways the more provocative issue because it’s the thing that the United States can do. It’s not clear we can build missile defense that’s hypothetical it’s going to cost a hundred billion dollars to find out- is NATO expansion. Bush said before he met Putin when Bush was in Poland that we are going to expand NATO eastward even more and everybody’s eligible. He mentioned the Baltic countries and Ukraine. Which were part of Russia’s Soviet Union until 1991 that more then anything is the red line for Russia, even more then missile defense.”

Q: “Final question, looking to the future what should we hope for as far as the relationship between Bush and Putin. Should we hope that it’s as affable as it seemed to be between Clinton and Yeltsin?”

A: “You said the right thing seemed to be. The Clinton Yeltsin model was a lot of affability and very bad outcomes and at the end of eight years hard feelings. My view is, is that what President Bush needs is not a friend in the Kremlin but a partner in the Kremlin to do very serious national security business with and above all to secure Russia’s nuclear controls. Putin needs the same thing in the White House. Not a best friend, but a partner, a business- like partner who understands that our interests are the same. That’s hard though to understand that the interests are the same. That’s the kind of leadership I think we need, I hope we get, but it is not yet clear we will.”