I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ohio University political science professor Karen Dawisha while walking across Washington D.C. We discussed how Western leaders should feel about sharing the same table of negotiations with Vladimir Putin.
No doubt they are aware of the details of Putin’s kleptocratic, criminal ascension to power described in the book “Putin’s Kleptocracy” or the movie “Who is Mr. Putin?”. The evidence presented in these publications can’t be ignored and western intelligence agencies have linked Putin to money laundering linked to drug trafficking, to gambling business, to benefits from the apartments bombings also in 2000.
For a long time, I thought that Obama, Merkel, and others should feel like I did as a schoolgirl towards the girl who I sat next to. While I was a “bookworm,” she was repeating the year for the third time and had been convicted for rape.
And yet she was able to keep up an appearance. I allowed her to copy from my notebook and I learned more details of the crime for which she was convicted. She was amiable with me, I must say.
Why I was sure that Putin kept up appearances with foreign leaders or decision makers? George Bush was fooled by the eyes of Putin. And more recently, political scientist Ivan Krastev attended a close circle dinner with Putin in 2015 after the Crimea annexation. Krastev said that the Russian president was in a good mood, joking around. When he was asked whether Russia will really change the orientation of its foreign policy from Europe to China, as the Russian propaganda claims Putin responded smiling “No, no, we have traditional orientation and we don’t change it like some people.” Putin was obviously alluding to gay marriage rights in the West, the infamous “Gayrope.” But a joke nonetheless.
Putin doesn’t necessarily keep appearances in conversations with Western leaders. This summer I read a new investigative book by French journalist Nicolas Hénin “Russian France – Putin’s network in France” dedicated to the policy of influence in France. It managed to extend my knowledge of Putin’s acts.
Every French speaking person remembers the video “Sarko bourré” (“Sarkozy drunk”) at the G8 in 2007. “Je vous prie de m’excuser pour mon retard du à la longueur de mon dialogue avec monsieur Poutine” – “I ask you to forgive me for beeing late, this is because of the length of my dialogue with Mister Putin,” Sarkozy said, pale, breathing hardly and without a trace of smile.
Belgian television even suggested that Sarkozy drank vodka with Putin that day. The problem is, Sarkozy was always so demonstratively sober that he managed to exasperate French wine producers. “A non drinking president, such a non patriot of our wine country like Chirac was,” one once griped.
Now Sarkozy, who could be a candidate in the upcoming French presidential elections, is one of the most devoted Western defenders of Putin, probably the most vocal one just behind Berlusconi. Sarkozy attended the recent St Petersburg Economic forum and said that “Crimea is Russian.” As President of France, he signed off on the sale of the Mistral warships to Russia after Russia’s aggression in Georgia. He also enabled the construction of an enormous Russian Orthodox church with diplomatic status just next to the Eiffel Tower.
Who remembers now that Sarkozy was just the opposite of himself in 2007 before G8?
Sarkozy was openly pro-Atlantic and anti-Putin during his campaign and at the beginning of his campaign and presidency. In 2006 he went to the USA and promised to stop the “French bashing” started by Jacques Chirac. Criticized for being too pro-Atlantic, he even said “people who are criticizing me for meeting Bush have shaking Putin’s grappler, it makes me laugh.” By 2009, Sarkozy restored French membership at military units of NATO suspended since 1966 by Charles de Gaulle, as he promised before. Back in 2007, Sarkozy has even supported Georgia and Ukraine’s membership at “partnership for peace” NATO program. In 2008 he blocked personally their Membership Action Plan.
Nicolas Hénin revealed what really happened in 2007. He’s referring to a source which attended the first personal meeting of Putin with Sarkozy.
So, Nikolas Hénin tells us (pages 112-113 of his above-mentionned book):
“The conversation, which took place between the French president and his Russian counterpart at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm (2007), likely predestined their relationship, according to the story, told by a witness to this dialogue. From the French side there were only three people and an interpreter. This is Nicolas Sarkozy who started talking. He was still confident in his ideas, believing that an open dialogue between persons of the same rank was possible. “I am not like Jacques Chirac. With me, we’ll talk about Anna Politkovskaya [the name that he distorts, about what the interpreter warns him with gesture).” Monologue by Sarkozy takes a few minutes, and during all this time, Vladimir Putin listens silently. Finally, Sarkozy paused and silenced. Putin interrupts the silence dryly: “All right, have you finished?” Sarkozy is confused. “Then I’ll explain,” – Putin continues. “Your country is like this (he makes a gesture with his hands, showing small size), and my – like this (spreads arms widely). Or you keep talking to me like this and I’ll crush you, or you’ll change the tune and I will make from you the king of Europe.” Putin puts abusive and derogatory words in his speech, (and uses non-diplomatic language by using familiar pronoun “Ty” instead of more polite “Vy”, untranslatable into English) to enhance the effect. Sarkozy is shocked. He leaves livid. He’s mentally knocked out.”
And all this was during the relatively “herbivorous” Putin era in 2007. I’m scared to imagine what and in which manner Putin was able to say to world leaders privately during their “open dialogues” during the following years. What is Puting saying now to the Turkish president Erdogan during their meeting in St Petersburg? “My country is huge. By the way, I control the criminality, I’m on the top of the indestructible union of the intelligence and gangsters, and we are able to make terror attack, I’ll crush you, got it? You have to present your excuses.” And , if that is the case, what can Erdogan answer? Give a press conference? Inform the US intelligence?
Unlikely. As for Sarkozy, he is far from being just a victim. All the West is far from being poor victim of intimidation. Putin keeps promises. Nicolas Hénin drew my attention when I contacted him to the following: since Sarkozy considered even by devoted pro-Putin French politicians as an opportunist, plays Putin’s game, “Putin in response doesn’t miss the opportunity to praise Sarkozy.” Now Russian State propaganda insists that Sarkozy is not only former but also “future president” of France. Time will show us the real cost and value of this support.