The Washington Post

President Clinton’s first meeting with Putin: Dress to impress

U.S. President Bill Clinton, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands after signing agreements in the Kremlin in Moscow on June 4, 2000.  (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Ahead of President Bill Clinton’s first meeting with newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2000, a Clinton national security adviser and scheduler suggested that he dress to impress for his face-to-face with Putin.

“The pictures of your first encounter will be important, and we recommend business attire,” they wrote in a memo. “We want to convey ‘getting down to business’ and avoid the inaccurate charge that we’re embracing Putin without question.”

According to a Washington Post article at the time, the two leaders ate “cabbage soup, spicy boiled wild boar, trout, goose, baked stag ham and rich ice cream dessert” at the Kremlin, and “there was a very easygoing nature to the conversation.” Putin also showed off his workout room. Afterward they attended a jazz concert.

The two men had previously met when Putin was prime minister, but this was their first sit-down as presidents. One  purpose of the meeting, according to a memo made public Friday as part of a larger release of secret Clinton White House documents, “was to stress the importance of continued engagement with Russia and the newly independent states.” Clinton also visited Ukraine on that trip to show other nations that emerged from the Soviet Union that U.S. foreign policy is not just “Russia-focused.”

As President Obama now knows well, dealing with Putin isn’t easy, and Clinton may have needed to decompress after several hours with Vlad. His chief of staff, John Podesta, suggested in an interview with Runner’s World just last month that they indulged in some Russian vodka after the dinner meeting:

“We saw Putin and then we had the evening free. We went to the Cafe Pushkin in Moscow, and as is habit in Moscow, we started drinking vodka shots. I’m not much of a drinker, but I had plenty to drink that night. I was supposed to meet Gene Sperling, who is now Obama’s economic director, for a run the next morning before going to see Boris Yeltsin, with whom Clinton had become quite close, at his dacha; so we needed to get up and out early. I don’t know how I managed to get out of bed. I wouldn’t even describe myself as hungover; alcohol was still pouring out of my pores.”

Podesta did not make clear if “we” included Clinton, but for the sake of fun visuals, let’s assume so.

Clinton has said that he and Putin used to go at it behind closed doors, but had a mutual trust. We wonder how he feels about Putin now that the Russian president suggested this week that his wife, Hillary Clinton, was “weak.”

Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
Republicans debate tonight. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
He says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything in the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.