ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—When it came to presiding over the Group of Eight summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin was the host with the most—attitude.
President Bush and other leaders of the world's eight major industrialized nations treaded lightly in their public remarks about Putin's commitment to democratic change, but the Russian president felt no compulsion to sugarcoat his stone-faced rhetorical pokes.
Bush felt the lash of Putin's sharp tongue on Saturday after Bush suggested that someday Russians will enjoy the freedoms that Iraqis now have.
"We certainly would not want to have the same kind democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honesty," Putin said at a joint news conference with Bush.
The two-day summit, which concluded Monday, hadn't even started before Putin rejected earlier criticism from Vice President Dick Cheney by saying Cheney's remarks were as off-target as his shotgun blast to the face of a hunting partner earlier this year.
And it wasn't just American leaders who came into Putin's cross-hairs. Pressed about Russia's human rights record, Putin turned the topic to a corruption scandal in Great Britain.
"There are also other questions, questions, let's say, about the fight against corruption. We would be interested in hearing your experience, including how it applies to Lord Levy," Putin said.
Putin's sharp tongue in part reflects Russia's resentment at what many Russians consider the West's patronizing treatment after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The barbs also are pure Putin, according to Masha Lipman, a Russian political analyst for the Carnegie Moscow Center. She recalled that the Russian president once threatened to circumcise a French journalist who questioned Russia's human rights record in Chechnya.
"With Bush, it tends to be amusing," Lipman said, referring to the U.S. president's gibes at visiting dignitaries, such as giving them nicknames. "With Putin, there tends to be more poison in it. He's not shy in not being civil. Western leaders are at a loss because they would not talk to each other that way. This is a conscious choice, if not attitude."
Bush chuckled at Putin's Iraq-democracy quip, though some press accounts indicated that some White House officials were annoyed by it. "The president wasn't miffed at all, nor were we," White House press secretary Tony Snow insisted on Monday.
And a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair told London's Daily Telegraph that Blair was unfazed by the Russian leader's talk of British corruption, saying Blair took it as Putin being Putin.
"I think if you look through what (Putin) says, he has a little joke for each and every leader—and we have not lost our sense of humor," the spokesman told the paper.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Need to map