The former US President George W. Bush had quite a complex relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Bush initially praised Putin as a trustworthy partner, but their relationship became strained due to disagreements over human rights violations, lack of press freedom, and conflicts like the 2008 “Five Day War” in Georgia. Of course, more recently Bush also expressed concern about Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine.
Trump similarly liked Putin from the start — but for very different reasons. For Trump, Putin was someone who could enrich him. It was only about capital gains and prestige for Trump, he cares about little else. Putin was quite happy since Trump’s disregard for American democracy and rule of law justified Russia’s foreign expansionism.
But why were both so wrong about Putin and the potential of cooperation between the two former chief political rivals of the 20th century?
In 2001, during their first meeting, President George W. Bush famously said that he had looked into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “was able to get a sense of his soul.” This comment was widely reported and became a topic of discussion in the media and among political analysts.
The comment was originally interpreted by some as a sign of Bush’s trust and confidence in Putin, while others criticized it as overly simplistic and naive. Personally, I have also been fairly negative toward that claim.
In the years following their meeting, relations between the United States and Russia became increasingly strained, particularly in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
2008: When We Most Certainly Knew Putin’s Motivations
But it was as early as 2008, at the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany, that Putin expressed his distaste for the West. He particularly criticized what he saw as the United States’ overreach in global affairs and argued for a more multipolar world order.
To be specific, Putin accused the United States of pursuing a “unipolar” world order based on military power and “dictating” its own values to other countries.