Suzanne Fields

BERLIN -- Berlin enjoyed an unusually warm winter (just the opposite of ours), but the blast of frigid air ushering in spring seems especially suited to accompany the changing attitudes many Germans express in their view of a restive world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's calculating behavior, first in the Crimea and now in Ukraine, sends chills down the spine of the body politic. Once gaga over Barack Obama, their warmth has turned to frost. They, like many Americans, are particularly bitter over his collecting electronic data of ordinary Germans and eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone.

They once laughed at the contrived macho images of Mr. Putin's bare chest, his strong arms performing the butterfly stroke, his posing next to the pike he caught that was almost as tall as he was. But they never forgot that he once practiced the grim trade of a KGB agent in Dresden, before the Berlin Wall fell, where he worked closely with the Stasi, the universally hated East German secret police.

When he climbed to power in Russia, becoming president twice, he became a leader to be reckoned with, but never trusted. One of his KGB colleagues in Dresden describes him as "someone who thinks one thing and says something else." The Russia he was elected to lead in 2000 was not regarded here as a superpower, but everyone fears his ambitious power now.

The Germans looked glowingly at Obama when he was a candidate for president in 2008, swooning by the hundreds of thousands when they greeted the junior senator from Illinois at the Brandenburg Gate as if he were a rhinestone rock star, all dazzle and glitter. He was the embodiment of hope and change, peace and love, the totally "cool" stranger. He was the antithesis of George W. Bush, whom they loathed.

The presumed president-to-be spoke as if he really believed in "allies who will listen to each other; who will learn from each other; who will, above all, trust each other." A predictably shattered romance lay ahead.

Both the Russian and the American are seen now as threatening the German wish for peace and prosperity for Europe. Putin's macho buffoonery is perceived now as having hidden a cunning strategist, planning a dangerous game of usurping power with dexterity and finesse. He's unpopular and considered armed and dangerous.

The Allensbach Institute, a German public opinion polling organization, finds that seven of 10 Germans now regard Russia as a world power, up from four in 10 six years ago.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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