OTTAWA – In less than a month, Russian bad boy Vladimir Putin will host Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other world leaders at the G20 summit in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg.
It’s shaping up to be a heck of a summit, if only because every leader who steps off the plane at St. Petersburg’s drab grey airport will have a giant chip on their shoulder because of their host’s recent behaviour on the world stage.
With Syria and gay rights and fugitive Edward Snowden, Putin has been offside with most of the Western world.
U.S. President Barack Obama just cancelled a one-on-one summit with Putin out of pique over Snowden, a sign of rapidly cooling Russia-U.S. relations.
But Harper and Putin haven’t exactly been getting along either.
Remember, Putin’s spooks roped Canadian navy officer Jeffrey Delisle into betraying his country last year.
And you could feel the frost in the air the last time Harper and Putin had a one-on-one meeting, last fall in Russia’s pacific port city of Vladivostok.
Here’s how that went: The protocol for these kinds of meetings things is that the host – Putin – comes in first, gets settled, and then stands to greet his guest – Harper – who would arrive from an anteroom next door.
In this case, Pootee-poot, as some politicos have nicknamed him, was an hour late, letting Harper cool his heels in the anteroom. So, when Putin finally arrived, Harper got his revenge by letting Putin wait 10 or 15 minutes – in front of the press and all the TV cameras – before Harper strolled in with a Cheshire cat grin. I watched Putin, a small wiry judo master, while he waited.
He was fidgeting, tapping his foot, and sent verbal daggers at his minions over the delay. One responded by marching up to one of Harper’s aides and demanded that Harper show himself immediately.
Pootee-poot, if you’ll pardon my Russian, was pissed.
Then, when Harper did sit down at that Vladivostok meeting, the first thing the Canadian did was remind Putin that they were meeting on the 40th anniversary of Canada beating the U.S.S.R. in that famous 1972 hockey series.
This is about as in-your-face as it gets on the global leaders’ summit.
The press were ushered out at that point so the two men and their officials could talk privately about Syria and other global matters.
During that private time, Putin managed to insult Harper by calling him a Trotskyite – I kid you not – an insinuation that Harper was some sort of radical revolutionary who was threatening a peaceful status quo.
The two men finished their meeting agreeing to disagree.
A day before G8 leaders met in Northern Ireland in June, Harper had snorted that the world’s most exclusive club ought to be called the G7+1. In other words, a Group of Seven like-minded nations who uphold the rule of law, respect human rights, and support democracy – that would be Canada, the U.S., Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and France – plus one that does not. That would be Putin’s Russia.
Putin’s latest thumbing of his nose to the West is a hateful law that would essentially jail or fine anyone who, to boil it right down, let people know being gay is OK. His reward for this most obnoxious of laws? He gets to bask in the glow of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Western leaders, including Harper and Obama, under pressure from many of their citizens to boycott those games and deny Putin this glory, are likely furious that Putin has put them in this pickle.
So when Putin gathers his G20 colleagues around the table in early September, he shouldn’t be surprised if no one proposes a toast to the health of the host.
Categories: Foreign Affairs