Vice President Joe Biden and former President George W. Bush both looked into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eyes — but they each saw very different things.
Biden recently told the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos of a 2011 meeting with Putin. The vice president got close to the Russian leader — so close, in fact, that the two nearly touched noses. Here’s what happened:
To illustrate his emphasis on personality as a factor in foreign affairs, Biden recalled visiting Putin at the Kremlin in 2011: “I had an interpreter, and when he was showing me his office I said, ‘It’s amazing what capitalism will do, won’t it? A magnificent office!’ And he laughed. As I turned, I was this close to him.” Biden held his hand a few inches from his nose. “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.’ ”
“You said that?” I asked. It sounded like a movie line.
“Absolutely, positively,” Biden said, and continued, “And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’ ” Biden sat back, and said, “This is who this guy is!”
Although Biden looked at Putin and saw no soul, more than a decade earlier then-President George W. Bush saw something very different when he came eye-to-eye the Russian leader:
“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue,” Bush said according a BBC account. “I was able to get a sense of his soul. He’s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue and that’s the beginning of a very constructive relationship.”
Soul or no, Putin is coming under increasing pressure from world leaders in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week.
Just today, President Obama ratcheted up his rhetoric: “Given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia, and President Putin in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation,” President Obama said.
And over the weekend Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, was even more blunt: “I would say, Putin, you have to man up. You should talk to the world. You should say this was a mistake, if it was a mistake,” she said in an interview with CNN.