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Context of 'July 16, 2001: Bush Gets ‘Sense of’ Putin’s ‘Soul’ in First US-Russian Summit'

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At a joint press conference in Genoa, Italy, US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss the necessity of maintaining the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), a treaty from which Bush and many American conservatives wish to withdraw (see May 1, 2001 and June 2001). Putin says, “As far as the ABM Treaty and the issues of offensive arms, I’ve already said we’ve come to the conclusion that [the] two of these issues have to be discussed as a set… one and the other are very closely tied.” Bush, who agrees with his administration’s conservatives, counters that the two nations do not need such treaties because they have “a new relationship based on trust.” Putin responds: “The world is far from having international relations that are built solely on trust, unfortunately. That’s why it is so important today to rely on the existing foundation of treaties and agreements in the arms control and disarmament areas.” Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, dismisses the idea that the Russians could distrust the US as “silly.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 175)

Presidents Bush and Putin during the summit.Presidents Bush and Putin during the summit. [Source: BBC]The first summit meeting between US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin goes well, with the two apparently forming a warm working relationship. Both say they have found the basis for a relationship of mutual respect. Bush describes Putin as straightforward and trustworthy, and says: “I looked the man in the eye.… I was able to get a sense of his soul.” No real progress is made on the issues that divide the two nations—particularly US plans to enlarge NATO and expand its defense capabilities—but Bush says the two sides are resolved to put aside Cold War-era attitudes and differences, and to move away from the concept of “mutually assured destruction” and towards “mutually earned respect.” (BBC 7/16/2001)

Russian President Vladimir Putin phones President Bush while he is aboard Air Force One. Putin is the first foreign leader to call Bush following the attacks. He earlier called the White House to speak with the president, but had to speak with Condoleezza Rice instead (see Between 10:32 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). Putin tells Bush he recognizes that the US has put troops on alert, and makes it clear that he will stand down Russian troops. US forces were ordered to high alert some time between 10:10 and 10:46 a.m. (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001) Bush later describes, “In the past… had the President put the—raised the DEF CON levels of our troops, Russia would have responded accordingly. There would have been inevitable tension.” Bush therefore describes this phone call as “a moment where it clearly said to me, [President Putin] understands the Cold War is over.” (US President 10/1/2001; US President 11/19/2001; Dougherty 9/10/2002) Putin also sends a telegram to Bush today, stating: “The series of barbaric terrorist acts, directed against innocent people, has evoked our anger and indignation.… The whole international community must rally in the fight against terrorism.” (Russian Embassy 9/17/2001)


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