How Much Does Vladimir Putin Love Annoying the West? This Much

Matt Berman
National Journal

We're only on the first day of the 2013 G-8 summit, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has already found a way to make himself the center of attention.

At a Sunday press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Putin referred to the Syrian rebels as "the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras." Getting to an international agreement at the G-8 with Putin over Syria was never going to be easy, but already Putin is making it clear that he's not ready to budge.

And this, really, shouldn't be all that surprising. The enigmatic Russian president has been something of an on-again, off-again blister for the U.S. for over a decade. And as just the past week makes clear, the problems go far past organ-eating in Syria.

Take the claim from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft last Thursday that, in 2005, Putin stole Kraft's Super Bowl ring. According to Kraft, he let Putin try on the ring when they met in St. Petersburg. Putin, apparently, then said the most Putin thing he could've said: "I can kill someone with this ring." After that, Kraft says, Putin pocketed the ring and left surrounded by "three KGB guys." A spokesman for Putin denied Kraft's story, instead saying that the ring was given to the president as a gift.

Or look at Russia's response to the NSA data-collection scandal. First, a spokesman for Putin said that Russia would be willing to consider an appeal for asylum from Edward Snowden, if such an appeal was made. Then, Putin himself suggested that such a program, at least without warrants, shouldn't exist in "civilized society." 

And most recently on Monday, Putin turned again to Syria when a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Russia would "fundamentally" not accept a no-fly zone over the country. Russia's comments on Syria have already pushed other G-8 leaders to public frustration, and President Obama says he plans to use his first face-to-face meeting with Putin in a year this week to try to move Russia to convince Syria's Assad to negotiate an end to the country's conflict. This surely won't be the last we hear from Putin at the G-8.

The thing is, though, it's not always easy to stay mad at Vladimir Putin. It's not just because of his mind-boggling, treasure-hunting PR stunts. Or that, occasionally, he actually helps the U.S.

It's also that, sometimes, he tries to speak English. Which, as Foreign Policy found, happened last Wednesday in support of Russia's bid to host the 2020 World Expo. Take a look, find the soul in his eyes, and let your heart melt.