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Putin Disses Merkel in Milan. Displays Confidence, No Sign of Budging on Ukraine.

Keeps Merkel up till 2 a.m. because he was having a good time at Serbian military parade, then tells her to jump in a lake re: her Ukraine demands. Prefers to hang out with Berlusconi til wee hours rather than get some rest for big meeting next day.

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This is a typically bogus and biased article from the NYT, but we are running it because it speaks volumes about Russia's position vis a vis the EU on the Ukraine.  One has to read between the lines to understand that Putin's symbolic message was: take a flying leap.  

Ignore the silly pop-psychology The Times descends to, and their relentless maligning of Putin personally.  Also, a typical Times ploy, they manage to slip in a howling falsehood.  "Even with Russia’s economy steadily grinding downward, with a recession looming..."  Ahem, the economy is growing, and predicted to grow in the coming years.  Sanctions aren't working, no recession in sight.  In fact the sanctions are strengthening the Russian economy, one of the reasons Putin is feeling so confident these days.  

<figcaption>Putin makes Merkel wait</figcaption>
Putin makes Merkel wait

Ahh,The Times..., we could create a whole website dedicated to the nonsense they peddle...

MILAN — He was at it again this week.

First, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia stopped in Belgrade, Serbia, for a military parade evocative of the Cold War. He questioned Kosovo’s sovereignty, took a swipe at President Obama in the Serbian news media and reached a summit meeting in Milan so far behind schedule that he was hours late for a private evening meeting with Europe’s most powerful leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

Nor was Mr. Putin done. When he left Ms. Merkel at roughly 2 a.m. Friday, his entourage streaked through Milan to the home of his friend and Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The men talked and enjoyed truffles until about 4 a.m., whereupon Mr. Putin departed, leaving him barely four hours before he joined European leaders, including Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, for a pivotal breakfast meeting.

For Mr. Putin, the helter-skelter blitz through Milan was only the latest demonstration of an unpredictable, often theatrical, diplomatic style that he has employed during the Ukraine crisis to throw his rivals off balance. This time he kept Ms. Merkel waiting late at night. Last month he upstaged President Obama on the eve of a NATO summit meeting focused on Russian aggression when he unexpectedly announced a seven-point peace plan for Ukraine — written on the back of a napkin as he flew for a state visit in Mongolia.

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Russian president and German chancellor talk

“He loves you and me and everybody else looking at him and trying to figure him out,” said Nina L. Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School in New York and the great-granddaughter of Nikita S. Khrushchev. “He’s an exhibitionist.” She added, “He pushes the envelope all the time, and he gets away with it.”

This week, his presence in Western Europe for the first time in four months and the rare occasion of a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Poroshenko — coupled with the bite of Western economic sanctions and falling oil prices — raised expectations among some European leaders that the Russian president might be poised to deliver a major compromise in the Ukraine crisis.

But if progress was made on some issues, including a bitter and longstanding dispute between Ukraine and Russia on gas pricing, Mr. Putin showed little appetite to deliver any major breakthroughs. His entrance upstaged the array of global leaders who had gathered in Milan for an Asia-Europe summit meeting, and the Ukraine crisis dimmed attention on subjects like the Ebola outbreak or climate change.

If European leaders were expecting him to be humbled, they had another thing coming. Not only did he exude his usual confidence, but Mr. Putin even told an off-color joke about the anatomical difference between a grandpa and a grandma at a late afternoon news conference.

After the breakfast meeting, Ms. Merkel and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain expressed frustration, as Mr. Putin apparently rebuffed their entreaties that he pressure pro-Russian rebels to put off local elections they have scheduled for November in defiance of the Ukrainian government, which has set nationwide local elections for Dec. 7.

To Mr. Cameron, Mr. Putin had not yet budged, or budged enough, on any of the contested issues. “And if those things don’t happen, then clearly the European Union, Britain included, must keep in place the sanctions and the pressure so that we don’t have this kind of conflict in our continent,” Mr. Cameron said. (Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, countered by telling Russian reporters in Milan that some European leaders were obstinate and had refused to take an “objective approach.”)

“There’s a ‘Waiting for Godot’ quality to Western analysis,” said Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Kennan Institute, a research organization in Washington. “It’s always waiting for Putin to blink, to be cowed or shamed or humbled.”

Mr. Rojansky continued: “He stands for Russian resurgence. Ask yourself: When was Peter the Great humble? When was Catherine humble? That’s not part of the role that they play.”

If Mr. Putin is easy to caricature, with his macho photo ops, posing shirtless in the Russian wilderness, for instance, his style underpins a method. Even with Russia’s economy steadily grinding downward, with a recession looming and the ruble hitting new lows almost daily, Mr. Putin is wildly popular at home, using the state press to stir up a nationalistic fervor that has sown unease in the West, but that has created broad public support for his Ukraine policies within Russia.

Just as he introduced his peace plan on a napkin last month, Mr. Putin set the stage for Milan with a visit on Sunday to Sochi, home of the recent Winter Olympics. There, he was watching the final laps of Russia’s first Formula One Grand Prix, the second of three major sporting events that Mr. Putin has personally helped organize, when his aides abruptly announced that he had ordered an end to “military exercises” in western Russia and was pulling back more than 17,000 troops from along the border with Ukraine.

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Putin at Milan summit

The timing was impeccable, even if Western leaders remained skeptical that the realities on the Ukrainian border had really changed.

Mr. Putin has apparently calculated that European outrage over Ukraine has limits, given economic ties between Europe and Russia, as well as European dependence on Russian energy. He could, however, face a tougher reception when he travels next month to a Group of 20 summit meeting in Brisbane, Australia, a country that lost 28 citizens in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

On Friday, the area where Mr. Putin hinted at the most wiggle room was on the gas dispute, where he said Russia was prepared to compromise, to a degree, though he pointedly noted that Russia would no longer sell gas on credit to Ukraine.

Mr. Putin also understands that Europe is far from unified on sanctions and on how hard a line to take with the Kremlin. In Serbia, a country with aspirations of joining the European Union, Mr. Putin was greeted like a Roman proconsul, cheered by throngs during a military parade and awarded the Order of the Republic, Serbia’s highest honor.

Aware of Serbia’s own diplomatic balancing act, Mr. Putin said nothing during his visit that would embarrass Serbian leaders before their European partners, restricting himself to remarks about the historic role played by the Soviet Union in defeating fascism in World War II.

Yet Mr. Putin’s showmanship appears to be wearing thin with Europe’s leaders, particularly the most important one, Ms. Merkel. Early in the Ukraine crisis, she was seen potentially as a trusted broker, herself a child of Soviet East Germany, someone with a genuine understanding of the Russian perspective. But as Mr. Putin has repeatedly finessed or ignored commitments on Ukraine, Ms. Merkel has become increasingly antagonistic, supporting sanctions and saying recently that they could be left in place for a very long time.

Mr. Putin’s tardy arrival for their Thursday night meeting probably did not help. (“And this is a woman he likes; this is a woman he actually respects,” Ms. Khrushcheva said.) He came to her hotel about 11 p.m. on Thursday and remained for more than two hours. Photographs showed the two leaders seated across a table with aides. When he later arrived at Mr. Berlusconi’s apartment, it was apparent that his meeting with Ms. Merkel had not gone particularly well.

“He didn’t say that progress was made,” said Valentino Valentini, a longtime aide to Mr. Berlusconi who was present for their meeting. “The impression was that their positions were still far apart.”

That Mr. Putin would make time for Mr. Berlusconi — especially at 2 a.m. — might seem odd, though the two men do have a colorful history, vacationing together and becoming close friends. “Every time Putin comes through, he comes and visits,” Mr. Valentini noted.

For Mr. Berlusconi, who remains a political force in Italy, if a diminished one, the meeting with Mr. Putin is a political bonus. Il Giornale, a Milan-based newspaper owned by Mr. Berlusconi, wrote that the meeting proved “the true interlocutor with the Russian president is the Cavalier,” alluding to one of Mr. Berlusconi’s nicknames.

Mr. Valentini denied the two men had spent an evening in revelry, as has often been rumored of their past meetings. “At 2 in the morning,” he said, “I’m afraid it wasn’t too much of a wild party.”


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