Got A Date With Vladimir, the Tardy? Bring a Good Book

Posted August 8th, 2012 at 6:07 am (UTC+0)


While the President of Ukraine and much of his cabinet waited for four hours, Russian President Vladimir Putin caught up with “the Surgeon” (black leathers), formally known as Alexander Zaldostanov, leader of Russia’s Night Wolves biker group. On July 12, the Russian President broke up the drive from Sevastapol airport to Yalta on the Black Sea coast with a prolonged visit to the Night Wolves summer encampment in Crimea.Photo: AP/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev

On a sun splashed hillside overlooking the Black Sea, the President of Ukraine and half of his cabinet gathered July 12 for a summit meeting with Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. The site was Livadia Palace, the Czarist-era estate that was the setting for the 1945 Yalta Conference, the meeting where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin divided up post-war Europe.

But on that day last month, Ukraine’s leadership waited. And waited. And waited.

On his way in from the airport, President Putin had decided to stop for a drink with the Night Wolves, a Russian motorcycle club that gathers every summer in Crimea.

After drinks, Mr. Putin changed his black shirt and pants for a business suit. He then went to meet the Ukrainian President. He arrived four hours late.

Why rush to see the President of Ukraine? Russia’s President may have mused. He is just going to once again ask for discount on his gas bill, and then refuse to join my Customs Union. President Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych after the July 12 session of the Ukrainian-Russian state commission in the Livadia Palace, the Black Sea estate built in 1911 for Czar Nicholas II. Photo: for AP/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych gamely welcomed him: “We are glad to welcome you to Crimean soil. It’s a little hot here, but I know that you had time on the way to chat with your friends, the bikers.”

To which, the Russian President replied: “They’re also waiting for you.”

The meeting went downhill from there.

The next day, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Volodymyr Ogryzko, told reporters in Kyiv: “Rather than rush to a meeting, a stop was made to drink a glass with bikers. In my opinion, it is a diplomatic slap in the face or just plain rudeness. This is a manifestation of abnormal relations.”

His colleague Viktor Baloga, Ukraine’s Minister of Emergency Situations, wrote on his Facebook page: “Yesterday I was at a commission with the Russians. Dreadful impressions. There was a great deal of bad manners, which shook the welcoming Ukrainians. President Putin exceeded the limits of lateness. He traveled to bikers and their war brides, this was his priority.”

The Ukrainians may go down in history for finally saying — in public: the Emperor is late.

Over the years Putin’s tardiness has grown from delays that can be blamed on the traffic – 15 minutes late in 2000 for an audience with Pope John Paul II, and 14 minutes late in 2003 for a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II.

Mr. Putin favors expensive Swiss watches. But, in the 90 days since he started his third term as president, he seems to use calculated lateness as a policy weapon.

If it is any comfort to the Ukrainians, they have good company.

Waiting for Vladimir 1 — First, President Barack Obama talks with Chief of Staff Jack Lew before the start of a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, June 18, 2012. Photo: White House/Pete Souza

In mid-June, Mr. Putin flew to Mexico for a meeting of the G-20. It was also to be the first time for Vladimir Putin and Barrack Obama to meet as presidents. In May, Mr. Putin had dropped out of a G-8 meeting that Mr. Obama hosted near Washington.

No one is talking on the record, but President Putin showed up late for his meeting with President Obama.

Golf cart gridlock inside La Esperanza Resort in Los Cabos? No one is saying.

How late? No one is saying. Sounds like 15-30 minutes late.

A sequence of photos taken by White House photographer Pete Souza on June 18 shows President Obama first pausing for a quick briefing by White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew. Then, a few minutes later and a few yards down the terrace, the American president can been seen having abandoned his suit jacket and settled down for a good chat with Michael McFaul, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia.

Waiting for Vladimir II – Then, President Obama chatted with Michael McFaul, US Ambassador to Russia, while waiting for President Putin to arrive. Photo: White House/Pete Souza

That snub was just a warm up for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, four days later.

For months, Kremlin officials cajole foreign businessmen to fly to St. Petersburg for “Russia’s Davos.”

On June 22, the hundreds of foreign business executives assembled to learn about foreign investment opportunities. They had to wait 40 minutes for Mr. Putin to appear to give his address.

Then the real treatment came. About 10 executives of foreign energy companies were assembled to meet the Russian president separately. They were confined in a narrow, dark, poorly ventilated corridor. There were no chairs. Accounts vary. Some say they waited in the summer heat for three hours. Some say four hours. Assembled in the hallway were the chiefs of: Britain’s BP, France’s Total, Germany’s Eon, France’s GDF Suez, Norway’s Statoil, Italy’s Enel, the American General Electric, and several Russian energy majors.

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses foreign and Russian business leaders at the opening of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in St Petersburg on June 21. Putin was criticized for his lateness. Photo: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

“People are feeling insulted,” an oil company executive later told The Wall Street Journal. Another blurted out: “The combined per hour salary of all the CEOs here would match the budget of the forum for years.”

But energy company executives know that oil and gas reserves remain in the ground without cooperation from politicians above ground.

After the one hour meeting, Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, summoned French arts of diplomacy. He smoothly told reporters: “I feel more optimistic after leaving the room.”

Then Mr. Putin was off to Israel.

There, as Haaretz newspaper reported, the Russian president kept “the entire upper echelons of Israel’s government” waiting for 90 minutes before arriving to unveil a monument to the Soviet Red Army in World War II.

Some Putin watchers saw a ray of hope last week when he showed up on time for his meeting in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron. But other pointed out that the meeting was tied to watching judo events and the Olympic machinery would not grind to a halt to cater to the whims of one spectator.

Many in Moscow say the president’s tardiness is becoming a national liability.

The Moscow Times wrote in an editorial: “Obviously, foreign investors are not going to ignore Russia because Putin cannot make it to meetings on time. Russia offers tremendous opportunities, and Putin has made it easier to invest here. But his apparent inability to keep appointments does reveal a lack of respect for investors, for whom ‘time is money.’ Putin is overlooking a simple way to show investors that he values them. He should be on time.”

Right on time! A prompt Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 7, 2012. Was it the Russian leader’s cultural sensitivity to Asian punctuality — or tacit recognition that Russia is now the junior partner? Photo: AP/Mark Ralston

For other observers, the Russian president’s cavalier attitude toward others conjures up images of Mel Brooks playing French King Louis XVI in the hit 1981 movie, “History of World: Part 1.” Surrounded by fawning courtiers, the French king squeezes all women within reach, then drops a gold coin as a tip in a freshly filled chamber pot. Turning to the camera, he grins broadly and exclaims: “It’s good to be king!”

In real life, Louis XVI’s autocratic ways sparked the French Revolution. In 1793, he was guillotined. His son, Louis XVII, died in prison. The younger brother of the executed king, Louis XVIII, spent 23 years in exile, until finally becoming king in 1814.

Perhaps chastened by years of revolution and exile, Louis XVIII coined a phrase that has held up over two centuries. He said: “Punctuality is the courtesy of kings.”

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

7 responses to “Got A Date With Vladimir, the Tardy? Bring a Good Book”

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  3. Boggie says:

    There should not be any surprise at this vulgar behavior, because it has not changed since the Soviet times. Regrettably our politicians are adopting more and more such arrogance ever since Newt Gingrich won the House in 1994. Our politicians are behaving more like the Kremlin’s bosses where there can be no compromise; either it is my way or only MY WAY! Rhetorics have been known in our politics since the bitter fight between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but have now been perfected to the level of Russia’s politicians when dealing with their neighbors.

  4. Richard W. Murphy says:

    This is the man whom President Obama tries to appease.

  5. Lid says:

    I have a feeling that a simple psychological test would show Mr. (off) Putin to be very high on the psychopath scale…

    • Boggie says:

      It may be psychopathic behavior as far as Western culture is concerned, but it is typical of Russia’s politicians. Condoleezza Rice did comment that Kremlin’s politicians have not entered the XXI Century. The problem with is that we put up with that sort of behavior or are willing tolerate.

  6. Gennady says:

    To Boggie:
    You’ve made an excellent point. I just disagree with the wording of “politicians” as they are better described as Rulers. To prove my position I’ll mention that everybody knows that “the Tardy” isn’t a politician at all, but a functionary appointed by some undisclosed and top-secret agency.
    a) Has he been in any political party, movement, some exile or prison, has he undergone some torture, has he been a martyr for his ideas before his advent to prominence out of blue and from complete obscurity? No, he hasn’t. It hadn’t been known to the world at the time that he had been interested in any politics. He had been just a common FSB-bureaucrat in the government and came into politics by “recommendation” of the then severely ill President Eltsin despite allegations of lost millions $ of Saint Petersburg’s public money under his responsibility. Who in the world came into politics through a back door? Nobody, just him. Much lately hired politechnologists invented “United Russia” party, the ever-lasting and without any public scrutiny, to convey a kind of legitimacy and “theoretical” base for his ruling.
    b) Has he been elected to third term in undisputed majority votes and in election untarnished in thousand recorded irregularities? No, he hasn’t.
    c) Does he represent interests of a certain predominant class in Russian society? No, he doesn’t, just interests of FSB and other militarized “siloviki” agencies.
    d) Has he written a single inspiring book of his vision of Russia’s bright future and its high standing as a beacon of immaculate democracy and a powerhouse of world economy in upcoming years? Has he staged a drama play conveying such an idea? Not a single word.
    e) Has he delivered a single charismatic speech to specially unprepared audience? No, he hasn’t. Attendees to his “speeches” are transported in luxury trains and jets from Siberia and Ural region. Thank God that not from the Far East or other remote destination!
    f) Has he been able to hold a single open public debate to support his agenda and defend “result” of his 12 years in power? No, he hasn’t.
    g) Who among politicians resorts to back-street boys’ and toilet terminology in his nation-wide addresses? Who treats world dignitaries in disrespect? Just him.
    h) Who among politicians remained in power after references to the fact that their PhD had been plagiarized? Not a single man. References in English Wikipedia had been pointing out that 150 pages of his PhD were plagiarized from a western scientist. After public attention to the fact some FSB-editor deleted the hard but embarrassing reference from the Tardy’s page.



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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