Article / 06 June 2017 at 12:00 GMT

Putin gets it off his chest in St. Petersburg

Russia oil and gas expert
United Kingdom
  • Putin gave a colourful, assured performance at St. Petersburg economic forum
  • Joining the world's mighty club may be his life ambition
  • Putin exudes bitterness at being excluded from meetings of global elite
  • Putin repeats denial of Russia's involvement in US election of Trump
  • First meeting between Russian and US presidents could be awkward

Russian president Vladimir Putin
 President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied Russian involvement 
in the 2016 US presidential election. Photo: Shutterstock

By Nadia Kazakova

US President Donald Trump is not the only showman on the world stage, as was witnessed in Russian President Vladimir Putin's colourful airing of views on global issues at the St. Petersburg economic forum last week.

It is tempting to try and wrap up Putin's ideology in around 140 characters. Stripped to its core and addressed to the international counterpart that really matters (the US), it could be condensed into a little song from Disney's The Jungle Book. Here how it goes: Oh, oobee doo / I wanna be like you / I wanna walk like you, talk like you, too / You'll see it's true someone like me / Can learn to be like someone like you.

It would explain why President Putin tries to inject some light entertainment into his appearances and interviews, especially for the benefit of foreign audiences. More seriously, Putin keeps making examples of the US administration and military interfering in other countries to justify his own actions in Ukraine and Syria.

Humanitarian and other lofty principles do come into the equation, but seem to appear as an afterthought, a reluctant nod to the international world order which is there to be broken by the mighty. And Putin is keen to join the mighty club, whether invited or not. This — rather than global domination — might be his life ambition.

When President Putin goes off script (as he did during the question-and-answer session at the Petersburg economic forum on June 2), his unguarded comments give a sense of the bitterness he must feel by being excluded from meetings of the global elite.

As Putin put it, “I do not belong to the category of European leaders, at any rate they do not think I do”. President Trump must be sharing the feeling.

Presidents Putin and Macron
 Putin with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, May 2017. 
Putin's true ambition might be to join the global elite. Photo: Shutterstock

The lesson here for Putin is that old-fashioned manners and principles do count, whatever the size of one's military arsenal. 

And then to the burning question of Russia's interference in the 2016 US presidential election, the Trump team's alleged links to Kremlin and speculations about the Kremlin's kompromat ("compromising material") on Trump.

An interview with NBC's Megyn Kelly (who also mediated a session with Putin at the St. Petersburg forum on June 2) was not about much else, presumably with Putin's explicit consent. The transcript of the interview has been published on Kremlin's website.

Putin has repeated his denial of Russia's involvement in the US elections (“no direct evidence”). Less plausibly, he said that he had no idea that he sat next to General Michael Flynn at a table (Putin: “Afterwards, I was told, 'You know, that American gentleman, he used to do this before, used to work in the special services. And now he does this.'”).

The least convincing part was probably the line on the lack of kompromat personally on Trump. (Putin: “Well, this is just another piece of nonsense. Where would we get any information about him?...Many Americans come here. There are representatives of 100 companies from the US, who have come to Russia... Do you think we are gathering dirt on all of them now? Are you all right in the head, all of you there?”).

Considering Putin's professional training and many years in power, his passions on the matter seem to run pretty high. Too high, perhaps. If the Russian intelligence services do have damaging material on Trump (not unlikely, given that Trump seems to have little self-control), the Russians must be signalling (with some emotion) that it has been safely locked and the keys thrown away. 

During the NBC interview, there was even a helpful attempt to blame the US media for Trump's problems. “I just find it amazing how you created a sensation where there wasn't anything at all," Putin told Megyn Kelly. "And proceeded to turn that sensation into a tool for fighting the sitting president. You know, you're just very resourceful people there, well done, probably your lives there are boring.”

The problem for the Russians, though, is that Trump might have taken the whole episode too personally, forgetting that it is simply business as usual for intelligence services (on both sides of the Atlantic and the Pacific).

It also might make for an awkward first meeting between the Russian and the US presidents.

St Petersburg International Economic Forum
 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, with President Putin at the podium on the left. Image: Screengrab from webcast

— Edited by John Acher

Nadia Kazakova is a Russian oil and gas specialist

06 June
ka26 ka26
Putin's speech at the economic forum has nothing to do with business. He can continue to "play" as much as he likes, but now even the last mouse of the White House knows who Putin is and what to expect from him. He can only lie and kill.
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