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“But mostly it makes me insane. I have been dealing with American government for 13 years, and my needs have always been simple, straightforward. I just want what Russian leaders will always want: a sphere of influence, a partner to fight terrorism, stability at home, respect abroad. But your presidents, Bush and Obama — who can tell what they want? One minute they ask me for help in Afghanistan or offer some sort of ‘reset’ button; the next they push NATO to my borders and try to topple my only Middle Eastern client …”
“Well, maybe they both started out hoping that you were something other than a thug and ended up disappointed.”
He stroked the AK-47. “Maybe. But you are lucky to have me. After the 1990s, you could have had a crazy revanchist who tried to conquer his neighbors instead of just bullying them like me. Or another clown like Yeltsin, who let everything fall apart. Instead, I’ve delivered growth, stability, continuity — even our birthrate is now higher than yours!”
“OK,” I returned, “but your continuity is just corrupt one-party rule, and your hold on power is actually weakening. You’re relying more on demagoguery, cracking down on civil society …”
“Your Obama would still give his eyeteeth for my approval ratings.”
“Touché. But in the long run, you’re a prisoner of your corrupt system. You’ll either hang on while it crumbles, or step down and end up jailed by your successor.”
“I cannot let you change the subject, American columnist. Here is a message to transmit to your readers: As much fun as I had baiting them, part of my op-ed was sincere. I am not America’s enemy. I do not wish a new Cold War. I do not wish to dominate the Middle East, whatever that means.
“No,” he went on, “all I want is an American foreign policy that sees the world as it actually is, and an American leader who can arm-wrestle at my level. Which is what you Americans should want as well, no? Maybe someday you should consider electing one.”
He rose, pecs flexing, and looked around my office. “Oh — and if I should need post-presidential career outside of Mother Russia, I think my op-ed sets me up nicely to become a columnist for your New York Times, no?”
Then he grinned — a wolf’s grin — and showed himself out.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.