Asked by the "Today" show's Matt Lauer about the recent caning Vice President Cheney gave him and Russia, President Vladimir Putin gave this cocky and cutting reply:
"I think these kinds of comments from your vice president amount to the same thing as an unfortunate shot while hunting."
In Rostock, Germany, Bush declined to defend Cheney or rebut Putin, though the veep's tough words in Lithuania May 4, accusing Russia of backsliding on democracy and using its oil as a weapon to blackmail neighbors, had to have been approved by the White House.
Putin, a black belt in karate and the man into whose soul Bush famously saw five years ago, as he gazed into the eyes of that ex-KGB officer, takes no guff from these Americans.
That is among the reasons Putin's approval rating in Russia is twice that of Bush in America and four times that of the veep. On the Eastern shore of Delaware, where college girls from Eastern Europe come to work in the summer, Putin is a rock star among the Russians.
Why is Putin popular in Russia? Why is America no longer so? As one of the achievements of the Reagan-Bush administration was to convert Russia from the hostile global power headed by Brezhnev into the friendly nation headed by Boris Yeltsin, these issues should concern us. For the relationship between the two greatest nuclear powers on earth has been going steadily downhill.
Americans give these reasons for the estrangement: Putin's reversion to authoritarianism, his support for repressive regimes in Belarus and Uzbekistan, his closeness to Beijing (including joint military exercises), his sale of fighter jets to Hugo Chavez and anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran, his support for Iran's nuclear plant, his recognition of Hamas' election victory, his oil blackmail of Ukraine, his unplugging of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, and his crackdown on U.S. NGO's promoting democracy in Russia. All seemed designed to show Russia's independence of -- and, indeed, defiance of -- the world leadership of the United States.
And that is not an unfair conclusion. But Americans need to ask themselves whether we have had it coming. For consider how we have dealt with Russia's interests and sensitivities.
Listening to U.S. advisers on how to privatize the wealth of the Soviet state, Russians saw their national assets looted by thieves, hustlers and "oligarchs" welcomed in the West, as their per capita income sank and their social security vanished.
They saw the United States bomb into submission a Serb nation Russia had always seen as her Balkan god-child, for Serbia's crime of trying to hold on to her cradle province, Kosovo.
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