Bush and Putin Take a Spin
Monday, May 9, 2005; 1:21 PM
Russian President Vladimir Putin is the walking, talking, human embodiment of one of the White House's bigger conundrums.
President Bush speaks passionately about the importance of spreading democracy around the globe. Meanwhile, Putin speaks wistfully about the Soviet Union and continues to consolidate power in what is looking more and more like a return to autocracy.
So Bush's trip to Russia was widely seen as being fraught with tension about the future.
But instead -- somehow -- the focus shifted to a largely academic disagreement about the past. And in the present, we were treated to a great big show of friendship between the two leaders.
In Thursday's column , I speculated over which image of the trip would emerge triumphant: The president speaking glowingly of freedom in some of Europe's newer democracies? Or the president cheering as a Russian military parade rumbles by in Red Square celebrating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany?
Little did I know that the winner would be the image of Bush and Putin waving from the inside of a vintage 1956 Russian sedan.
(Here's an Associated Press photo of Putin showing Bush how the car works.)
Putin yesterday welcomed Bush to his residence outside Moscow, where he keeps the pristine white 1956 Volga GAZ-21. As Christopher Cooper of the Wall Street Journal wrote in his pool report to his colleagues, after Bush and Putin spent some time together in Putin's residence, they "emerged to take a spin in the white Volga. POTUS looked taken aback when Mr. Putin indicated that he should drive. The car was pointed at the press. 'Be careful,' POTUS said, then shouted 'He's giving me a driving lesson,' as the car stuttered off at a slow roll.
"The car followed the drive down to the right and up over the ridge, without headlights on, disappearing in the birches. Moments later, the Volga emerged and drove past the guesthouse. 'I'm having so much fun we're going for another lap,'' POTUS said. Both men waved at the pool."
Today, the two leaders sat side by side as they reviewed a military parade very much in the Soviet tradition.