The relationship between Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel is perhaps the most important in global politics. It's just as well that she knows his type...by Matthew Qvortrup / October 12, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Both leaders sat down in the Russian President’s office at his Black Sea dacha for a press conference. The door had been left slightly ajar and it was soon clear why. From the corner of her eye Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, saw a black dog enter the room. Vladimir Putin, coming towards the end of his first stint as Russia’s President, was smirking in the armchair beside her. The former KGB officer had done his homework. He knew Merkel was frightened of dogs after one had bitten her during the 1995 federal elections. Now in 2007 and at their first formal bilateral meeting, Putin had decided to use this against her.
“She doesn’t bother you, does she?” said Putin with a gesture toward Koni, his black Labrador. Merkel looked anything but comfortable. Diplomacy at this level is a mind game, a struggle for psychological supremacy, and Putin considers himself a master. Back in 1975, when asked what he did for a living, the young Putin’s reply had been: “I am an expert in human relations.”
Here he was applying these skills to the German Kanzlerin. Putin smiled but his blue eyes were emotionless. “She’s a friendly dog and I’m sure will behave herself,” he said. Like a chess player after a decisive move he leaned back and kicked his legs out. Before the world’s press, Putin had showed he was in charge—that he could bully the leader of his most powerful neighbour.
Then something happened he had not expected. Though initially thrown, Merkel recovered her poise. She replied in her cultivated Russian tone (a contrast to Putin’s affected working-class St Petersburg accent)—“She doesn’t eat journalists, after all.” Her presence of mind shook Putin out of his conceit.
The relationship between the two is crucial—perhaps the most important in global politics. She’s the only one that Putin really takes seriously in Europe and her ability to deal with and influence him is vital if Russia is to be talked round on Ukraine, or indeed on Syria where the last few weeks have brought fresh reminders of the urgency of getting Moscow engaged.