“This is our last meeting as Presidents, but I hope that we’ll meet again more than once as individuals.” That’s how George W. Bush summed up, on Sunday in Sochi, his eight years of contact with Vladimir Putin. Both leaders agreed that both governments have many differences that cannot be overcome at present, but they agreed that they tried to overcome those differences and always listened to each other. At this point they believe that their successors will do the same.
Wearing a fashionable camouflage colored jacket and carrying a bouquet if flowers for Laura Bush, Putin welcomed his guests at Bocharov Stream. The first part of the planned schedule was to look at the blueprint of the 2014 Olympic project. Dmitri Chernyshenko, the head of the 2014 Olympic Committee set a world record by jogging through St. Petersburg with the Olympic torch. He then came down to Bocharov Stream, but without the torch.
“Here is where you will stay when you come down for the Olympics,” smirked Putin, showing Bush the white piece of styrofoam on the blueprint. The styrofoam was in the shape of a yacht sitting at sea. Bush didn’t seem to mind. Something else did seem to bother him.
“Why is this named after my wife?” Bush jokingly seemed to be disturbed while pointing at a point named Laura on the map of Red Planes.
Chernyshenko tried to explain that this was just a coincidence that no one noticed before, but Putin didn’t buy into the theory. The name Laura was placed specifically in the mountains for Bush and his wife, he insisted.
Putin prepared more for the guests then just a romantic walk around the pier and a joint supper. This schedule was partly confusing even for the journalists, who arrived in the evening to the Bocharov Stream press center. The entire space was filled with people, who spent their time changing their clothes without much inhibition and searching social networking sites online.
The entertainment for the Presidents were the young woman’s ensemble called Small Birch and later a chorus of Kuban Cossacks. There were other chorus groups that entertained the presidents during supper as well. On Sunday morning, during official talks Bush acknowledged that he tried to dance.
“I’m glad that the press missed it,” Bush said jokingly.
“That’s too bad, because they would have known how good of a dancer you are,” Putin quipped. It is rumored that Putin tried to dance as well.
While the presidents danced, their foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov and Condoleezza Rice, were discussing the points upon which to base their Declaration of a Strategic Framework, which both presidents were supposed to agree on the next day. The priceless document with the two signatures was quickly xeroxed, so that no one could doubt the content of the agreed upon text.
The Declaration of a Strategic Framework is what Putin and Bush want to pass on to their successors. It doesn’t ask anything of the two sides, just declares what the status quo is between the two countries.
Sochi, for both leaders, is an opportunity for a declaration. But the declaration seems off. Bush was laughed at after the first summit between the leaders, because he said that he “looked into his eyes and saw into his soul, understanding that I would trust him.” Soon other meetings have been held between the leaders and there is no indication that their relationship has worsened.
Even if all this may be the case, the two governments have been in opposition on many issues, at times the disagreements turned to global proportion. Even before the American operation in Iraq, Moscow and Washington quarreled passionately about whether troops should be deployed there. The differences were serious and could not be resolved.
The list of disagreements lengthened with the positioning of the anti-ballistic missile defense system, Iran, the Start Agreement, the expansion of NATO, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and the list can go on endlessly.
In principle both sides made an agreement that if all goes smoothly in Bucharest, Bush will come to Sochi. At the moment when Putin flew into Bucharest, things indeed went smoothly; Ukraine and Georgia were told that they may not enter the MOP (a preliminary step to accelerated NATO membership). Putin dinned with Bush and other key leaders from the summit participants. As our sources from the Russian delegation told us, it was at this dinner that the unequivocal phrase was formulated: “We agreed today that these countries [Ukraine and Georgia] will become members of NATO.” It was the American side, our sources say, that used their maximum efforts to press the unconvinced Europeans: France and Germany.
At the end of the summit, Ukraine and Georgia have not begun their path into NATO (like Moscow wanted), but it was also stated that the decision to include them in MOP could be taken as early as December of this year. It seems like a curtsy was made at Russia’s direction, but it was followed by a thumb of the nose. It looks like Bush came to Bocharov Stream with the same in mind. Plus the decision of NATO states to partake in the American anti-ballistic missile defense was taken. Putin stated in Bucharest that he intends to discuss this with Bush at Sochi.
Nothing concrete came about from his discussion.
“Some things are moving forward and our worries are listened to,” summed up Putin at the close of the summit. “We feel that the president of the United States wants to solve this problem.”
As for the American proposal that Moscow could inspect the installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, Putin did not agree. “The devil, like everyone knows, is in the details,” he reminded everyone in Sochi. Until there are set perimeters to the Russian involvement, there will be no agreement.
“What must Russia be offered, for it to accept the reasonableness behind the anti-ballistic missile system in Europe?” Putin was asked.
“First and foremost a united effort towards a global anti-ballistic missile defense system with an equal and democratic access to its controls, ” he responded.
To present a joint Russo-American anti-ballistic missile defense system is impossible at present, but our Kremlin sources propose to change the way people think. “It isn’t necessary to think in terms of years. At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it couldn’t be imagined that the two leaders of our nations could be dancing together on a musical stage.”
To the necessary elements present at Sochi, an element of a change in tone was present as well.
“Of course there is an element of nostalgia present,” admitted Putin, who more than once thanked Bush for the way the years of their presidential cooperation passed.
In Bucharest Putin also said his good-byes to certain European leaders, but phrased things differently. “Why shouldn’t I be glad? It’s the end of my tour of duty.”
American journalists reminded Bush about his comment in Ljubljana about looking into Putin’s eyes. He was reminded of this because in Sochi he met Dmitri Medvedev and looked into his yes, as the newly elected president. What did the head of the White House think?
“Yes I met with the president elect. He’s a straightforward guy, it seems, and he says what he thinks. But he isn’t a president yet.”
It seems like Bush will wait until the summer G8 summit to voice his opinion on the new head of the Russian government. All that’s left to know is into whose eyes will Medvedev be looking into.