During a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin brought along a black Labrador. Merkel is famously afraid of dogs following a 1995 incident when she was attacked by one, and Putin wanted to show the leader of Europe’s economic powerhouse who was boss. In his 17 years ruling Russia, few public displays have better illustrated the man’s thuggishness and utter lack of propriety.
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When Putin encounters American President Donald Trump for the first time this weekend on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, his intention will be different. With Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany and has no illusions about Russia’s authoritarian leader, Putin’s point was to intimidate. Meeting his American counterpart, who has no particular appreciation for liberal democratic values and actually sees things to admire in the Russian system of authoritarian rule, Putin’s objective will be to flatter. This, after all, is what he did way back in December 2015, when, in a Russian-language interview, Putin described the future Republican presidential nominee as literally “colorful.” (Trump, as is his wont, later remarked that Putin called him “brilliant,” which was semantically correct in the sense that “brilliant” can also mean “blindingly garish.”)