Foreign Policy has adaptedan excerpt from the new book “
Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House,” and it features some amazing quotes that inform how Russian President Vladimir Putin has confounded consecutive U.S. administrations.
We picked out a few that really capture the awkward tension during the Bush years:
- George W. Bush on Putin’s domestic centralization of power: “He thinks he’ll be around forever. He asked me why I didn’t change the Constitution so I could run again.”
- Vice President Dick Cheney privately told people that when he saw Putin, “I think KGB, KGB, KGB.”
- Defence Secretary Robert Gates came back from his first meeting with Putin and told colleagues, “I looked in his eyes and I saw the same KGB killer I’ve seen my whole life.”
- Bush on signing a nuclear reduction treaty because his Russian counterpart insisted: “Putin is at huge risk, and he needs to fight off his troglodytes.”
- “It was not hostile. It was like junior high debating,” Bush said after Putin told him not lecture him on press freedom. “Seriously, it was a whole series of these juvenile arguments. There was no breakthrough with this guy.”
There are also two exchanges that really show how far apart Bush and Putin’s starting positions were.
The first appears to be about poultry, but it indicates a deep-seated paranoia from Putin’s end. From Foreign Policy:
During a trade dispute when Russia cut off imports of American chicken drumsticks (known colloquially within Russia as “Bush legs”), Putin in a private conversation with Bush asserted that Americans deliberately sent bad poultry to Russia.
“I know you have separate plants for chickens for America and chickens for Russia,” Putin told Bush.
Bush was astonished. “Vladimir, you’re wrong.”
“My people have told me this is true,” Putin insisted.
“I’ve been warning you Saakashvili is hot-blooded,” Bush told Putin.
“I’m hot-blooded, too,” Putin countered.
“No, Vladimir,” Bush responded. “You’re cold-blooded.”
Baker writes that “Obama’s own dashed aspirations to build a new partnership with Moscow seem to echo his predecessor’s experience,” noting that “it is to misjudge Moscow’s intentions by superimposing American ideas of what Russian interests should be rather than understanding how Putin and his circle of KGB veterans and zero-sum-gamers actually see those interests.”
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