Kazi Mahmood Fatagar on why Vladimir Putin emerged the winner on Monday when he met US President Donald Trump in a one-on-one in Helsinki.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had the privilege of meeting three sitting American presidents and there is no doubt that he came out as the most acclaimed global leader in each scenario.
“I was able to get a sense of his soul,” said Mr George W Bush of Mr Putin after the meeting. That made the rounds in the news cycle worldwide. Mr Bush wanted to come out a bigger personality than Mr Putin, being the leader of the “free world”. But he failed and had to bow to the reality.
“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy,” Mr Bush said.
That is how Mr Bush was captivated by the piercing eyes of the Russian leader. Mr Bush would have wanted Mr Putin to blink first when he sat with the latter. When it did not happen, Mr Bush knew that the real Mr Putin was not the one depicted in the American media.
The same scenario played out with President Donald Trump on Monday when he met with Mr Putin in a one-on-one in Helsinki. But this time around, the American media wanted to see a dominant Mr Trump who would get Mr Putin to blink first. When this too failed to materialise, Mr Trump had no other choice but to admit that Mr Putin is a tougher guy to crack.
While the New York Times yesterday taunted Mr Trump in his meeting with Mr Putin, Time magazine said Mr Trump looked weaker at the press conference.
Slate went even further. It said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer suggested Mr Putin had dirt on President Trump.
Nonetheless, the Trump-Putin meeting came after a spell of good momentum for the Russian leader. On Sunday Mr Putin presided over the final of a successful and most exciting World Cup 2018 soccer tournament hosted by Russia.
Mr Trump, however, had a tough time running a rather negative week. He wrestled with partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, accused Germany of abusing of US aid to NATO and chided the European Union when he urged British Prime Minister Teresa May to sue the EU and not to negotiate with them over Brexit.
Mr Putin took advantage of the situation, it seems, leading Mr Trump in what appeared to be a well-scripted scenario by the Russians.
Nonetheless, that was the third time that Mr Putin’s piercing eyes literally tamed a sitting US president.
We can now say that neither Mr Bush, Mr Trump nor Barack Obama have figured out the Russian leader and what’s in his mind.
President Obama too tried to get inside Mr Putin’s head.
Though Mr Obama once gave Mr Putin the death stare as the two leaders met at the G-20 summit in China in September 2016, it was Mr Putin who once again came out as the tougher one. Mr Obama chided Mr Putin on Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war wanting him to pull-away his support for the regime of President Bashar Al Asad. He also wanted Mr Putin to lay-off Ukraine and the Crimea. Mr Putin did none of these.
Instead, Mr Putin is still a strong ally to Mr Bashar who is claiming victory in the Syrian war and Russia has since annexed Crimea.
Kazi Mahmood Fatagar is Khmer Times’ Associate Business Editor.