The return of the czar | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 02.06.2012
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The return of the czar

Russian President Vladimir Putin has more power than ever. After his return to the presidency, he is paying the German chancellor his respects - with enormous self-assurance.

As Vladimir Putin climbed out of his black limousine in front of the chancellery, there was a hint of triumph in his face, as if he wanted to say "Here I am again, I know the way!" The Russian president gave the chancellor two friendly kisses, then moved so effortlessly past the guard of honor, as if the walk down the red carpet were his usual afternoon stroll.

It is Putin's third term as president, so a certain routine is to be expected. But his gestures and facial expressions convey far more than the professional routine of an experienced politician. After four years in the "holding position" of prime minister, Vladimir Putin is back where he always wanted to be, in the country's highest office, outfitted with more power than ever before. Now he has six years to do as he pleases. The Russian president emanated this almost monarchical self-confidence as he entered the Berlin chancellery on Friday.

Respect, but no euphoria

He spent an hour there talking with Chancellor Angela Merkel. She understands Russian, he speaks German - and yet the two often fail to find a common language. When she begins to talk about Russia's smothered civil society, his expression changes. In the past, he sometimes became loud and coarse.

Once again Merkel persevered in bringing the issue to the table, in the knowledge that the German government's hopes were in vain. Putin's predecessor Dmitry Medvedev also failed to strengthen civil rights and follow through on the reform and modernization of Russian society from within. The German side had urged him to do so. When nothing happened, the frustration in the chancellor's office was palpable.

Political stagnation, economic dynamism

Putin is now back at the helm, the more authoritarian of the two statesmen. His re-election as president certainly caused no rejoicing in Berlin - because of the expected internal stagnation and because of foreign policy differences. The Russian support for Syrian President Assad is only one aspect of this.

But Merkel can't ignore Putin, nor can he ignore her. So both emphasize their similarities, such as excellent trade relations. There are new record figures for the exchange of goods, which are read out twice - once in German and once in Russian. Then Putin and Merkel part ways - after their polite exchange, they have stuck to their respective positions.

Author: Nina Werkhäuser / sgb
Editor: Spencer Kimball

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