In their joint appearance after meeting in Slovakia Thursday, President Bush ended up treading lightly around Vladimir Putin’s increasingly authoritarian approach to governing Russia.
Bush took a mild, unprovocative approach, underscoring the challenge of nudging an ally without alienating him. He hailed the “tremendous progress” in Russia and the “amazing transformation of the nation,” giving Putin credit. “I applaud President Putin for dealing with a country that is in transformation,” he said.
When it came to Russia’s reeling democracy, Bush acknowledged Putin’s argument that Russian history is unique, agreeing that democracy must “reflect a country’s customs and culture.” Then, without citing any actions in Russia, Bush added, “But democracies have certain things in common: They have a rule of law and protection of minorities, a free press and a viable political opposition.”
In response, Putin said, “We are not going to invent any kind of special Russian democracy.” But he added that democracy has to fit “our history and our traditions,” meaning it “should not be accompanied by the collapse of the state and the impoverishment of the people.” Still, he promised to consider Bush’s point. “I believe that some of his ideas could be taken into account in my work, and I will pay due attention to them, for sure. Some other ideas, I will not comment on.”
The Los Angeles Times reports, “At that point, Putin winked at Bush, eliciting a soft chuckle from the U.S. leader.”
I expect Bush spoke more forcefully in private. But does anyone think Vladimir (as Bush affectionately calls him in public) went back to Moscow feeling chastened, and pressured to reverse his undemocratic course?
Update: Commenter Dr. No notes that The Independent’s reporter apparently observed a different dynamic between Bush and Putin from that reported by The Post. I suppose the truth lies somewhere in between.