Writing in the Washington Post Strobe Talbott recalls a tense time during the days of the Kosovo crisis (and how many crises ago was that?) when he had a brief but telling encounter with Vladimir Putin, then a mere security chief but plainly a man on the make and someone to watch … carefully. At one point:
In our meeting, he managed to seem both relaxed and on guard ... His personal touches were pointed. For no reason other than to show he had read my KGB dossier, he dropped the names of two Russian poets I had studied in college.
Talbott mines that vignette for insights into the character of the man who is now our adversary if not our enemy and concludes that:
Putin’s role in that narrowly avoided military collision 15 years ago remains a mystery, but his attitude was clear then and relevant today. During a dangerous power vacuum in Moscow — when partnership between Russia and the West was at the breaking point; when Russian armed forces, fed up with having to make nice with NATO, took matters into their own hands and tried to rush to the aid of fellow Slavs — Yeltsin’s soon-to-be handpicked successor seemed to be relishing the moment.
Certainly doesn't sound like the sort of man whose morale will crumble if he is kicked out of the club.
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