Putin left behind bitter feelings

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Putin left behind bitter feelings

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I can still visualize the scenery of Russia from my visit three years ago. I toured Yasnaya Polyana and St. Petersburg to follow the tracks of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky and visited the homes of Boris Pasternak and Anton Chekhov. The most impressive sight was the endless stretch of birch trees. The people were simple and the facilities were unadorned. While it was not the most comfortable trip, I felt warm. My guide told me, “Don’t try to understand Russia. Just accept us as we are.”

Since Rome was divided into the Eastern Roman Empire and the Western Roman Empire, Russia has taken pride in its history of leading half the world. Maybe the country’s people feel proud that they should not be measured by other people’s standards. But it would be a stretch to interpret Russia’s leaders’ frequent diplomatic gaffes as part of its unique pride.

Former President Boris Yeltsin was known for his drinking. In September 1994, he called off a summit meeting with Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds because he was drunk. The prime minister learned that the Russian president would not leave the plane and was waiting on the runway of the airport for 20 minutes. Before his stop in Ireland, he had gotten drunk at a ceremony in Berlin, had taken the baton of the military band and had tried to conduct a march. He had also created chaos at a news conference after a summit meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

In fact, Russians are known for their love of alcohol, and a Russian saying goes, “There can be no ugly woman. There can only be not enough vodka.” Russians say that drinkers spend the first half of their lives harassing their livers and struggle during the second half of their lives because of their livers. Yeltsin’s cause of death was heart disease. During his tenure, he canceled two official visits to Japan, in 1992 and 1993, neither of which happened because of alcohol. Mari Yonehara, a Russian specialist in Japan, said that Yeltsin looked down on Japan for being subordinate to the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin exercises strict self-control, limiting his drinking to a couple of glasses of vodka or cognac, and claims to have never been drunk in his life. However, he is frequently late to meetings. He was 40 minutes late to a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, and 15 minutes late when he visited the Pope. Former Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Lee Myung-bak also waited for him, for 45 and 40 minutes respectively. Last September, he kept President Park Geun-hye waiting for 40 minutes during her visit to Russia, and a few days ago he was 40 minutes late again for the Korea-Russia summit meeting. Over 80 attendees waited for him, and the “luncheon” began at 4:47 p.m. It is an unacceptable discourtesy and an act of arrogance. The Russian leader’s conduct leaves bitter feelings.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By NOH JAE-HYUN

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