The Uninvited Guest

The symbolism of Vladimir Putin inviting himself to NATO’s gala banquet should not be missed. I’ve already suggested that Bush’s efforts mark his–and our–declining influence in Europe. Leave it to the old KGB spook to capitalize on that reality.

The presidents and prime ministers and their spouses had gathered at the Athenee Palace Hilton hotel for a gala dinner on the final night of the NATO summit when suddenly an unexpected visitor crashed the party — Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Although Russia does not belong to the alliance, and Putin had not been invited to the dinner, he showed up anyway, to everyone’s surprise. The NATO leaders politely made room for him — as it happened, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had backed out at the last minute, leaving an open seat — but they were all buzzing at the breach of protocol and its larger meaning.

As Peter Baker suggests, its larger meaning is fairly clear.

Russia succeeded this week in staring down NATO on where it should expand next, persuading Europeans dependent on its plentiful energy supplies to defy President Bush and refuse membership road maps to the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia. Anxious about the U.S.-Russia dispute over missile defense, NATO endorsed Bush’s system but appealed to him to cut a deal with Putin to avert a new arms race.

"Russia is stronger than it used to be," said Charles A. Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If Russia objects and is alienated by NATO enlargement, the cost to the West potentially grows higher. . . . We should not allow such objections to dictate NATO policies. On the other hand, to proceed with a plan for European security that doesn’t take into account Russian positions would be shortsighted."


"What we’re seeing in Europe is interest in what Russia can give European countries and particularly European business," Celeste A. Wallander, a Georgetown University specialist, said by phone. "European business is very interested in Russia . . . and the business interests are very important in foreign policy."

And, as Baker points out elsewhere, Europe is fairly reliant on Russia for energy.

Don’t get me wrong–I fault no one for treating Bush with disdain. But I believe that Putin intended to crash the party as a symbol that he is in the position to do just that, diplomatically. It’s one thing for Europe–and the United States–to have to negotiate with Russia rather than dictate terms. It’s an entirely different thing when Putin overshadows the US’ influence in Europe. Putin is no better a leader than Bush, he’s just a whole lot smarter.

Bush, as a person, deserves disdain. Unfortunately, the disdain the rest of the world feels for him will increasingly translate into disdain for the United States. January 2009 can’t come soon enough.

21 replies
  1. perris says:

    now hold on one second…

    if everyone cares to rememeber, cheney WANTS russia to be strong, he WANTS a never ending struggle

    it’s what he does

    this resurgence is a good thing as far as this adminsitration is concerned

    • Phoenix Woman says:

      Bush and Cheney are the ultimate results of capitalism as cancer. They’re so used to dealing with a game that their forebears had rigged in their favor that they don’t know how to react, much less act, when they must leave their cushy sheltered workshops.

  2. MarieRoget says:

    GWB has weakened the U.S. standing in Europe in so many ways & Putin knows a leadership vacuum when he smells one- time to jump in & show ‘em who’s the top dog, reasons Vladimir. One schoolyard bully knows when the other bully has become all bluff, & acts accordingly.

    As I’m typing this, I can hear the NATO dinner crashing story on the tube in the next room. He knows quite well how to get the press to pay attention too, does our Vlad.

  3. bigbrother says:

    Interesting. We picked up the Russian fight in Afghanistan and followed suite and lost as they did. The stupidity is mind boggling.
    We went into Iraq where Europe had been doing business.
    Bush has either declared defato disagreements with our traditional economic allies or he has weaked us as an International Hegemony (not all bad).
    NATO as our military allies, has considerably less respect for USA and disagreements with policy.

    The Monroe Doctrine on our sphere on influence in concept states that that an underlting principle of regional sovereignty is a natural rtelationship. Why don’t we recognize their interests. And why should’t Putin show to emphasis Russia’s interests. While Bushco is rattling sabers near their Caspian area in Iran?
    Unmitigated gall and emphasis on un skilled cowboy diplomacy. Globalising trade markets does not mean using military threat to achieve a competitve market over our allies as is being done by this administration. Removethat and save trillions for more beneficial uses. Then might not our political capital become more useful at these types of conferences. New policies coming will produce superior results.

  4. WilliamOckham says:


    as it happened, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had backed out at the last minute, leaving an open seat

    Does anybody really believe that? I’d really be interested to know why Karzai backed out. Did it involve persuasion from the Russians?

    • emptywheel says:

      I asked myself the same thing. How striking, especially, that Karzai pulled out when the central question was more troops for Afghanistan.

        • skdadl says:

          Really interesting little details, aren’t these?

          Och, the old Cold Warriors — theirs, yours, ours — they are simply incurable. I agree with you, EW, that Putin is every bit as vulgar and brutal as anyone BushCo can produce, and he is stuck in the same old plot-line. Gee, I hope that Francis Fukuyama is doing some serious penance somewhere.

  5. klynn says:

    Putin has GOT to be on a “power high” right now.

    If this has not given us the message…WE need to end petroleum dependency yesterday….

    And this dinner event is a turning point in world history. Let me go back in time to explain…

    The United States has informed the Soviet Union through diplomatic channels that it is prepared to convene a special session of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Standing Consultative Commission (SCC) beginning on or about July 22, 1986 in Geneva.

    The United States will be prepared to respond to questions or concerns the Soviet Union has with respect to the President’s May 27th decision on interim restraint. We would expect that in the context of such a discussion the Soviet Union will also be prepared to address U.S. concerns about Soviet noncompliance with arms control agreements.

    (my bold)…

    I participated in the SCC closed session back in 1986 in Geneva. The United States will never be in a position again (for a long time at least) to be in a position “to inform” the CIS of anything…Putin has made it clear through his self-invitation to the NATO dinner.

    We better move fast on our energy independence.

    There are multiple messages going on here. I hope we as a nation wake up and grow our independence and economic fortitude.

    Additionally, I am worried. A poster in an earlier thread did bring up the concern about why all these documents now while Bush was away? And then this? The poster then followed with the concern regarding impeachment. Unfortunately, Cheney was not the first one put up for impeachment. I too am quite curious with what is hitting the fan here. We better get something on Cheney ASAP.

    Talk about your tread water…

    • Minnesotachuck says:

      I too am quite curious with what is hitting the fan here. We better get something on Cheney ASAP.

      Agreed! If impeachment is back on the table, it will have to be a two car train with Cheney in the first one and Bush right behind. The country is in mortal danger if DeadEye gets the keys to the Oval Office.

  6. Hugh says:

    I can’t get to worked up about this. NATO still needs to get a lot of its new members in Eastern Europe and the Balkans up to speed. Georgia and Ukraine just aren’t ready politically or militarily to join. As for the missile shield, although it gives a pretext for Putin to re-arrange security agreements in place since the end of the Soviet Union, he probably would have done this anyway. Finally, as it has been described in the past, the missile shield is an example of a system that doesn’t work aimed at a problem that doesn’t exist. It is typical of the Bush Administration to pour money and diplomatic leverage down a rathole like this, but it doesn’t change the security equation in Europe. The real place where damage is done is by distracting from meaningful progress in and on Afghanistan. Maybe that’s why Karzai bowed out.

  7. kspena says:

    So bush left last Friday afternoon meeting on Afganistan to Gates and went back to his hotel. Friday evening Putin steps into Karzai’s place at dinner… Was bush at the dinner? Do we have a reaction from bush yet? I understand bush is now going to Russia to meet the new President…Comments..

  8. Knut says:

    The Europeans can live with Russia now that it isn’t trying to inflict a dictatorial regime on them by force. They have been living with the kind of Russia we we see now for centuries and know exactly how to respond. I think the economics ties Europe more and more closely to Russia, provided the Russian nativists do not get out of hand, which is always a possibility. I recall a conversation with one of them — a priest — at a church outside Vladimir about a dozen years ago, and the guy was really scary, though not any more so than our own fundamentalists.

    In any event, as long as Russia is not seen as threatening western Europe, the ties will grow. Can you imagine a TGV Berlin – Moscow?

  9. radiofreewill says:

    “…but they were all buzzing at the breach of protocol and its larger meaning.”

    Putin set aside the ‘niceties’ of pomp and ceremony to show Bush what real Power looks like: Stripping away the Friends Bush assumed he had UE-like Total Command over…and showing it to Not-So-Smirky over a meal, courtesy of a seat given by an honorable man, who had been dishonored by Bush.

    Proving, once again, Lao Tzu’s maxim from ‘The Art of War’ – The best enemy to have is a predictable one.

    Putin strolled-in and served Bush a ‘facial,’ right in front of “Bush’s Alliance,” in the glaring lights of the World Power Stage.

    Bush is our Pariah now.

    Who are We?

  10. bmaz says:

    Did somebody call me? Here I am! Oh. I see. It was Bush you were referring to. I saw “uninvited guest” and thought….

  11. JohnLopresti says:

    BBC is characterizing the unannounced visit by Putin simply as a farethewell between two leaders both of whom are ending their terms, Путин и Буш в Сочи: последняя встреча президентов”, but it has the tenor of a haphazard operetta rendition of Pushkin’s Stone Guest as depicted in that NYTimes drama critic’s review of an Alexander Dargomyzhsky NYC production.

    Bush has benefitted from the Clinton nation building efforts in Eastern Europe, as well as those of US presidents of the earlier two decades when NATO seemed to falter then gain a second wind.

    As the spook himself is accustomed to the double meanings of public speech and diplomacy, I am sure he brought his own personal agenda of worries, perhaps not at all voiced during the banquet he crashed, about matters such as the ghostplane incidents that kept plaguing spokespersons in the US trying to soften the enunciated fictions of people like Rice, and Flanigan over the past few years as the US state sponsored torture practices became the laughingstock of public opinion among former US allies. Not exactly the kind of embarrassment Putin would have anticipated, but I am sure he is satisfied with the slowed pace of expansion of free speech in the Newly Independent States as well as in his own Russia.

    It is similarly probable Pushkin and annointee Dmitri Medvedev approve of the Bush administration’s ongoing efforts to prevent congress from learning about the genesis of the Bush administration’s ongoing efforts to prevent congress from learning about the genesis of the US torture programs, as, the more details reach the public, the greater the pressure for return to a more open US society. So Putin gets to view Bush on the slippery slope that divides rule by fiat from the messy processes which characterize democracy. The only catch for Putin might be the historic unevenness of outcomes from a formal sceptre passing modality of relinquishing control of the reins of the state; certainly the US Republican and Democratic parties are experiencing some similar pressures to morph genuinely.

  12. JohnJ says:

    Ahh, memories….

    Khrushchev banging his shoe on the desk. Running a parade around the block a few time and completely fooling the west as to the number of missiles he had…

    The cold war’s most senior and public face was basically the two of our leaders fuckin’ with each other.

    The embarrassing part is the Russian were always so much better at making us look stupid.

  13. Putnik says:

    “Putin is no better a leader than Bush, he’s just a whole lot smarter.”

    I find I must disagree. Putin, as opposed to our very own putrid Shrub, for all his failings, has improved the lot of the average Russian, has strengthened Russia’s economy, has improved Russia’s esteem in the world at large. Does this sound like what the Shrub has done for America?

  14. Loo Hoo. says:

    January 2009 can’t come soon enough is right. I’m not one to be cavalier about wishing my life away, but good gawd, agnes.

  15. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Unfortunately, the disdain the rest of the world feels for [Bush] will increasingly translate into disdain for the United States. January 2009 can’t come soon enough.

    FWIW, looks like it’s going to be far worse than ‘disdain’.
    Weekend catchup reading turned up this must-read item, which has some ominous implications:…..rt_1/6513/

    Just yesterday, Scott Ritter, pointed out an ominous conjunction of events that strongly suggest the US will attack Iran, most likely in April:…..=node/4564

    Imagine if the US attacked Iran?
    The Sadr forces would cut off supply lines south to Kuwait.
    Don’t think it can happen?
    My old military history Prof said over… and over… and over… and over… ‘no army can win if they run into logistical problems; even Napoleon fell prey to logistical problems, when he overreached and invaded Moscow.’

    Don’t mean to be a fear monger, but there seem to be some off-key things showing up in odd places. If these articles are correct, all Bush has to do is declare war on Iran and send missiles flying, sooner rather than later.

  16. brendanx says:

    emptyheel, or anyone else:

    Why the tolerance of this missile shield on the part of Western European countries, and why the eagerness on the part of Czechs and Poles? I assume it’s bribery, as well as a champagne-enhanced affinity for America induced at think tank soirees, that explains the latter countries, but, really, the whole thing baffles me. The stated raison d’etre for the shield (Iranian missiles) is ludicrous on its face, while I can’t see how it provides any real security against Russia, particulary against its oil weapon, and as a “bargaining chip” it’s diminishing in value. Who, outside the U.S. interests, is gaining from this?

    And Putin’s not a better leader than Bush? Bush has stripped the country, lost two wars and suppressed democracy. Putin’s only done one of those things.

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