Erdogan Turns Table on Vladimir Putin's Habitual Lateness

Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Tehran on July 19, where he was hosted by Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, represented a rare venture abroad for the increasingly isolated leader of Russia.

It is yet to transpire what was agreed in Putin's meetings with the leaders of Iran and Turkey. But Iran's apparent reluctance to supply Putin's Red Army with military drones, according to Kyiv's readout of a July 15 call between the Iranian and Ukrainian foreign ministers, adds to the problems heavily-sanctioned Russia is already facing and undercuts the Kremlin's ambitions of building a formidable alliance to counter NATO.

Adding insult to injury, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned the proverbial table on the Russian leader, delaying his appearance at their planned meeting, as Putin—visibly uncomfortable—was left waiting with reporters and photographers in the room.

Putin, Erdogan and Raisi in Tehran
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Regep Tayyip Erdogan hold a joint news conference July 19, 2022 in Tehran, Iran. Video of president Erdogan arriving late as Putin waits uncomfortably has been trending on social media Contributor/Getty Images

The video fueled sharp-tongued remarks on social media, calling the incident "karma" and "payback" due to Putin's own notorious habit of making his counterparts wait, sometimes for hours, before finally showing up.

"Love this," tweeted Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, alongside the video of Putin waiting for Erdogan.

"I've never seen Putin wait for anyone. When I worked in the USG, he always made others wait -- Obama for 45 minutes; Kerry for 3 hours. Petty karma payback."

Newsweek has looked at some of the most prominent examples of Putin's lateness over the more than two decades of his time in power.

Waiting for Putin

Biographical details from Putin's past provide a clue to the origins of his tendency for tardiness, with his former wife Lyudmila Putina recounting in her memoirs that he was "always late for their dates."

"I remember waiting near the metro. The first fifteen minutes of delay are ok, 30-minutes is fine as well," she wrote, according to Russian newspaper MK. "But when it's been an hour, and he's still not there, you just want to burst into tears. And after 90 minutes you are just drained of all emotions."

Since coming to power in Russia in 1999, first (and briefly again, later) as prime minister, and then as president, Putin has made a habit of making people wait for him, regardless of the setting, nature of the meeting, or his relationship with the counterpart.

From Angela Merkel to Barack Obama, Alexander Lukashenko to Donald Trump, and even the Pope—many leaders have become unwitting participants in this waiting game, as videos from summits, media reports, and first-hand testimony of those encounters show.

One of the earliest examples of the Russian leader's apparent poor timekeeping occurred in June 2003 during his state visit to the U.K., with Queen Elizabeth II reportedly made to wait for 12 or 14 minutes (reports differ on the exact length of time) until Putin showed up.

This breach of royal protocol did not go unnoticed, with the Queen taking a subtle swipe at the Russian leader, according to Britain's former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who was also present at that meeting.

In February 2006, Putin made the Spanish royals wait for 20 minutes in freezing temperatures on the main square of the El Pardo palace in Madrid. Another royal "victim" of Putin's tardiness was Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf, who waited for 40 minutes during a meeting in Stockholm.

Former U.S. president Obama was also kept stewing for 40 minutes ahead of a 2012 meeting in Mexico, while it took Putin three hours to finally show up at a one-on-one with then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013.

Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met the same fate during his first official visit to Moscow.

Putin, a former KGB agent, caused uproar in South Korea after arriving half an hour late for his appointment with the country's then-President Park Geun-hye in 2013.

And he kept former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich—one of his closest international allies—hanging for a full four hours in Crimea in June 2012. Putin's excuse? He was delayed by a meet-and-greet with the pro-Kremlin "Night Wolves" biker gang.

The Russian president's first meeting with Pope Francis was delayed by almost a full hour in 2013, and he repeated the tardiness almost to the minute again in 2015. For a third meeting with the Pope, in July 2019, Putin arrived "only" 30 minutes late.

Meanwhile, former German Chancellor Merkel got the Putin treatment twice in one year. First, a meeting in Milan in October 2014 was postponed after Putin's flight arrived later than planned (though he had spare time to pull an all-nighter with ex-Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi).

Then, in February 2015, Merkel was again kept waiting for a full hour, alongside her fellow European leaders from France and Ukraine.

Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated earlier this month, was kept waiting for two hours in December 2016, supposedly due to Putin's "work overload." In 2018 he again ran late for an Abe meeting, this time by two-and-a-half hours.

The chart below, provided by Statista, shows world leaders who had to wait the longest for Vladimir Putin ahead of meetings.

Vladimir Putin's Habitual Lateness
The timeline, provided by Statista, lists the most prominent examples of Russian president Vladimir Putin running late for meetings and one-on-ones with world leaders throughout his more than 20-year reign. Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

Putin also showed up 40 minutes late for his first meeting with Trump after the latter was elected president, held in Helsinki in July 2018; some reporting suggested that the U.S. leader, perhaps being aware of his counterpart's reputation, showed up even later. The Kremlin later denied the claim, saying the meeting was simply pushed back by an hour.

Both Putin and Trump arrived late at the ceremony in Paris to mark 100 years since the end of World War I. The two leaders arrived separately from the more than 60 heads of state, and while Trump appeared to be briefly delayed by feminist protesters, Putin did not provide an explanation for his tardiness.

In 2019, the Russian president was again late, this time for his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who expressed the desire to bring Russia back "into the European fold" during their conversation.

Most recently Putin delayed his own traditional Q&A with the Russian public, which drew ire from even Putin's staunchest ally, political scientist Sergey Markov, who wrote that while it is perfectly acceptable to be late for meetings with politicians and officials, "you must not make your people wait."

Busy Schedule or Power Move?

There has been plenty of speculation about the reasons behind Putin's chronic tardiness over the years.

Official reasons provided by the Kremlin—if any are given at all—tend to cite scheduling conflicts, traffic problems, or flight delays; occasionally, Russian officials simply deny that there was a delay at all.

But over the years Putin's opponents and those close to the Kremlin have posited that practice is deliberate on his part, a powerplay used to humiliate rivals and occasionally put allies in their place.

"Putin always late to meet world leaders is a mafia boss power move," the chess champion-turned-political activist Garry Kasparov tweeted in 2019. "They wait for him so he keeps doing it. To him & his gang, it proves they are weak, that he is the big boss. At least the Pope should serve a higher power!"

Indeed, the rare occasions where Putin actually showed up on time tended to involve Russia's few remaining international allies, such as North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.

Putin actually showed up half an hour early for their first encounter, which took place in Russia's Far East city of Vladivostok in early 2019. He also arrived on time during an international summit face-to-face with U.S. President Joe Biden, to the surprise of many.

Yet even Putin's closest allies have been made to wait—sometimes for hours, as in the case of Belarusian President Lukashenko—and often with no explanation, adding weight to the notion that this behavior is Putin's way of establishing dominance.

But if that is indeed the case, then Erdogan's recent mirroring of the strategy could be signaling a shift in their relationship dynamic.

The fact that the Russian leader arrived on time suggests a need to maintain strong ties with Turkey, a NATO country, while Erdogan's late arrival could indicate that he is acutely aware of that need.

It also continues a string of very public putdowns the Russian leader has faced from some of his closest allies since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, which no doubt has contributed to the apparent sour look on his face as he stood waiting for his Turkish counterpart.

Newsweek has reached out to the Kremlin for comment.

Putin and Erdogan in Tehran
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L), Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (C) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hold a trilateral meeting on Syria in Tehran on July 19, 2022. The Russian president has used notoriously long tables while meeting with Western leaders since the start of the Covid pandemic. SERGEI SAVOSTYANOV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images