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Friday, November 8, 2013

How a warm friendship between Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush turned to ice

...Bush regaled his guest with stories of aggravating private dealings with Putin that underscored their growing rift. Bush was astonished that Putin had tried to influence him by offering to hire a close friend of the president's and he found Putin's understanding of the world disconnected from reality. "He's not well informed," Bush groused. "It's like arguing with an eighth grader with his facts wrong."

Putin was on his mind because Russia was about to host the annual summit of the G-8 powers for the first time and Bush feared that the session would be dominated by questions about why an undemocratic nation was hosting a gathering of democratic nations. Bush had been trying to get Putin to relax his authoritarian rule to no avail. "I think Putin is not a democrat anymore," Bush lamented a few weeks later to another visitor, the prime minister of Slovenia. "He's a tsar. I think we've lost him."

Whether Bush or anyone else ever actually "had" Putin in the first place is debatable at best. But the story of Bush's eight-year pas de deux with the master of the Kremlin, reconstructed through interviews with key players and secret notes and memos, offers lessons for President Obama as he struggles to define his own approach to Putin and shape the future of the two nuclear powers...


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