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How Not to Begin an Interview

A lesson in media relations from Vladimir Putin:

The world’s economic crisis does not seem to have been unkind to you, Vladimir Putin notes as we sit down to a lunch that begins with calf’s tail in aspic. “You all look well fed, well dressed.”

It is a spy’s gambit, one of several that the Russian prime minister advances subtly to compromise or co-opt 45 foreign academics, think-tank experts and journalists gathered in his opulent dacha at Moscow’s outer edge. Don’t be hypocrites, he is saying without saying. Don’t try to trap me with do-good, abstract questions. We’re in this together.

It’s no wonder that Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post left Valdai with some criticisms of Russia’s self-appointed ruler-for-life (“Putin represents the vengeful, hostile-to-change and sensitive-to-slight part of the Russian personality, while Medvedev personifies the impressive intellectual and literary interests of the Russian elite.“)

Then again, that probably would have happened anyways.