Saturday, November 30, 2013

BBC News - Russia: Why is Putin always late?

Vladimir Putin's legendary lateness is back in the spotlight after he kept Pope Francis waiting during a recent visit to the Vatican. What lies behind his chronic tardiness?

The Russian president was 50 minutes late to meet the Pope on Monday. And papal courtiers were left "shivering" outside as they waited to welcome the Russian president, who was held up by women protesting outside his hotel in support of punk band Pussy Riot, says independent daily Moskovskiy Komsomolets.

The Pope and the Italian press appear to have taken it in their stride. Given his reputation, they probably expected nothing else.

More: BBC News - Russia: Why is Putin always late?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Aussie Who Taught Putin Body Language | Business | The Moscow Times

VORONEZH — If any foreigner deserves credit for President Vladimir Putin's rise to power, then perhaps it is Allan Pease, an Australian authority on body language who calls Putin "a very clever and capable student."

Pease, a best-selling author who is known internationally as "Mr. Body Language," first met the future president in 1991 when he was invited to the Kremlin to host a seminar for up-and-coming politicians including Putin, then a 39-year-old former KGB officer responsible for promoting international relations and foreign investments at St. Petersburg City Hall.

Also at the seminar was Putin's boss, St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak.

"At that time, our entourage was seven people, and everyone looked rude and severe, carrying guns. It was both scary and exciting" Pease, who at 61 is the same age as Putin, said in an interview.

"I taught them how to look friendlier on television and how to exclude aggressive gestures. Mr. Putin, the assistant to the mayor of St. Petersburg at that time, was a very clever and capable student, by the way," he said.

More: The Aussie Who Taught Putin Body Language | Business | The Moscow Times

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

For Tatarstan and President Minnikhanov

These days, the world is so inter-connected, it's becoming smaller, and grief and sorrow finds its way so easily around. The past few nights were the same. Some days I have to shut down all emotion to cope, but I don't want to become such an emotionless person, so sometimes I turn to art and writing to express these feelings.

I've been uninspired to do yet another portrait for my Russian Politician Portraits blog on Tumblr, and I had a few candidates to be the next politician to be featured on my humble art blog, but I couldn't make a selection. I ran out of politicians whom I admired. (Not many at all, to be honest.) And, the number of politicians I don't really mind was too large. So I put off trying to choose somebody. 

Then came the tragic air crash in Kazan. RT did a good article that gave a human face to this tragedy; many of the victims were young parents. Read it here:

There's something about air crashes that are so violent and sudden, and that it often leaves no survivors, that I'm sure it must multiply the grief experience by the victims' loved ones tenfold. 

I thought about Tatarstan, and especially about President Rustam Minnikhanov, whom I saw once when he visited Singapore to speak about his native Tatarstan at the Russian-Singapore Business Forum (and he has come to Singapore a number of times to speak at the RSBF, and just recently in September as well). From that very brief time when he spoke to us, I found him to be a very capable but gracious and humble man, very unlike some of the egomaniacs and megalomaniacs who hold similar government postings. I think the people who had the privilege of working with him would have fond memories of him, and I think this was what prompted our DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam to personally write President Minnikhanov.

It was then it became clear to me who deserved a portrait. 

I didn't know whether my assessment of him several years ago was right, but it was confirmed just a few hours after I completed the portrait at around 3am this morning (I couldn't sleep), a close friend, whom I met at that same Russia-Singapore Business Forum, had just messaged me. He had just returned to Moscow from Grozny, and President Minnikhanov was also on the same flight. Said friend shared the same impression of a simple, humble, 'cute guy'. Is he OK? I asked. No, not really, came the reply. It just made me feel even sadder. This wasn't a man who flies around on a private jet, or pulls crazy 'macho' publicity stunts to further his political agenda. It makes it even more unfair that something so tragic should happen to a good person like him.

His son Irek was on that flight that went down. At first that fact didn't appear in the mainstream media. It wasn't until that was picked up by Twitter (soon enough) that I noticed, when dozens of followers tweeted him their condolences, and he very graciously thanked as many of his followers as he could personally. President Minnikhanov had just experienced the worst kind of loss any father could feel--losing their firstborn son. It's not the natural order of things. Yet, he didn't play the victim--he just put his head down and worked to deal with the crisis that affected not just him, but his entire Republic and beyond. He was mourning not just for his son, but for all the victims of that flight.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Putin’s Philosophy | The American Conservative

There is more to Putin than his past--and the West needs to understand who he truly is and where he places himself in Russian society.
Analyses of Putin tend to emphasize his KGB past and portray him as bent on suppressing democratic freedoms. As the murdered journalist Anna Politovksaya put it, Putin “has failed to transcend his origin and stop behaving like a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet KGB. He is still busy sorting out his freedom-loving fellow countrymen; he persists in crushing liberty just as he did earlier in his career.” For many in the West, that’s the end of story.
In fact, contrary to this view, Putin fits into a long-standing Russian tradition of “liberal-conservatism.” Modern Russian author A.V. Vasilenko summed up this school of thought, writing that “A strong state is needed not instead of liberal reform, but for reform. Without a strong state liberal reforms are impossible.” This is the basis of what British academic Richard Sakwa calls “a unique synthesis of liberalism and conservatism” embodied in Putin’s rule.
Putin’s Philosophy | The American Conservative:
The Russian leader’s paradoxical, strong-state “liberal-conservatism”By PAUL ROBINSON • March 28, 2012