BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Spanish Portuguese Caribbean

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Americas  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Analysis: Bush and Putin on nickname terms
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President George W Bush meet in Crawford Texas
The leaders presented an old pals' act last time they met
George W Bush likes to give people nicknames. It is nice for those who receive them - especially journalists and politicians, as it gives them the sense that they are on the inside track.

Those who do not get them, dismiss them as a sign that parts of Dubya - his name for himself - never really grew up.

Mr Bush has given Vladimir Putin, the steely-faced son of the KGB and now President of Russia, a nickname. It is Pootie-Poot.

It is not known if Pootie-Poot will respond with his own offering.

Improbable relationship

But all this indicates that relations between Mr Bush and Mr Putin are good. And it has been growing for some time. Remember last June, when Mr Bush surprised the world by declaring after a meeting with Mr Putin in Slovenia: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul."

This rang rather true. George Bush does like to look people in the eye. He has a habit of pausing between sentences (which are usually more lucid in private than in public), cocking his head and waiting for a response.

It is an improbable relationship. On the one hand, there is the chirpy Texan, and on the other, the stern apparatchik. One cannot imagine that dinner table talk is a bundle of fun.

But it is a balance of interests. It is based on a belief by Mr Bush that Mr Putin is genuinely trying to bring Russia into line with the Western world.

The US missile defence plan is still being developed
The US missile defence plan is still being developed
Mr Putin has not made big issues out of the policies which Mr Bush has favoured - especially the missile defence system.

And they have just reached agreement on a new Nato-Russia consultation mechanism and on reducing deployed missile warheads from some 6000 to 2,200 each.


Russia, therefore, is ceasing to be a threat to the West, in deed as well as in word. A historian might say - Russia blinked first.

From Mr Putin's point of view, Mr Bush has not caused trouble over Russia's own backyard problem - Chechnya. This is a trade-off for Russian support in the US-led war on terrorism which was declared after the 11 September attacks.

Mr Putin also needs American support for Russian economic ambitions. Without a strong economy, Russia cannot be strong again.

It was summed up in a comment to Time magazine by Mr Bush's National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice, a Russian specialist who also worked for George Bush senior.

She said: "To see the kind of relationship that Presidents Bush and Putin have developed and to see Russia firmly anchored in the West - that's really a dream of 300 years, not just of the post-Cold War era."

Personal touch

It is sometimes difficult in diplomacy to sort out if countries get on well because of their policies or because of their leaders. It is often a bit of both.

Without the right policies, good relations do not get very far. But, at important moments, good relations can turn policies the right way.

For George W Bush, the personal touch is important.

For his father, it mattered much less. For President Bush senior, policy mattered much more.

During the years that saw the break up of the Soviet Union, he acted mainly in accordance with his belief that it was in the US interest to encourage change, not out of any liking or otherwise for the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev.

Facing West

Mr Bush senior even had trouble being personal about his enemies. He struggled to demonise Saddam Hussein.

Ronald Reagan, who at times seems a larger version of Bush junior, was once nearly overcome by Gorbachev, and, in a famous meeting next to a log fire in Iceland, almost gave up America's nuclear arsenal.

American diplomats had then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ready on the phone to tell him to back off. He did anyway.

Bill Clinton found Boris Yeltsin hilarious. Mr Clinton's ability to get on with Mr Yeltsin did help to reduce potential frictions while Russia decided in which direction it wanted to face.

It is now facing West.

The new pals' act between George and Vlad has not solved all problems. Mr Bush has turned a blind eye to some of the harsher aspects of Mr Putin's rule.

But it is ironic that President Bush probably regards Russia as a less of a problem right now that some of his European allies.

In some European circles, Mr Bush is still seen as the America-first-and-only president.

In American circles, this is deeply resented, especially with Americans feeling vulnerable to further attacks by Osama bin Laden.

Key stories


Bush tour diary

Country profiles
See also:

21 Oct 01 | Americas
15 Nov 01 | Americas
16 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |