At Last, Obama and Putin Meet

On Tuesday morning, President Obama drove about 25 minutes outside of central Moscow to have breakfast with Vladimir Putin, Russia's former president turned prime minister. The meeting was highly anticipated to say the least. As your Gaggler noted yesterday, pretty much everybody seems to think Putin is still running the show here in Moscow, although Obama and the White House, when asked, won't even go there. Here's one telling sign: Obama visited Putin in the compound where he lived as president, Novo Ogaryovo. According to the locals, Putin liked it so much that when his term ended as president, he just decided to stay on, leaving current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to find alternate housing.

Today's meeting was the first time Obama and Putin had ever met. Upon arrival, Putin met Obama outside for a quick handshake, before they headed upstairs to an ornate living room, where they briefly spoke to reporters. The initial meeting was cordial, but in your Gaggler's view, it seemed a little awkward. Speaking through an interpreter, Putin talked first, welcoming Obama to his compound. He spoke of days when ties between the U.S. and Russia "flourished" but acknowledged periods of "grayish moods" between the two. "With you, we link all our hopes for furtherance of relations between our two countries," Putin told Obama. It was incredibly upbeat language for Putin, but his body language was another story. Although Obama sat looking at him intently, Putin, from your Gaggler's viewpoint, rarely made eye contact with POTUS. The Russian PM sat slumped in his chair, eyes to the ground virtually the whole time. So much for warm relations.

Putin's reaction didn't much improve when Obama started talking. The president initially misspoke—talking about Putin's "extraordinary work" first as prime minister and then as president—though he quickly corrected himself. "We think there's an excellent opportunity to put U.S./Russian relations on much stronger footing," Obama said. "We may not end up agreeing on everything, but I think we can have a one of mutual respect and consultation."

There was an odd moment after Obama spoke. As the president wrapped up his statement, Putin suddenly leapt to his feet and led Obama to a nearby window where he pointed out an outdoor space where the two would have breakfast. "Ohh," Obama said, as aides to both men stood awkwardly wondering what Putin might do next. (For a moment, your Gaggler wondered if Putin would trot out his pet tiger, but, alas, it didn't happen.) "I also want to thank the prime minister for arranging very nice weather in Moscow," Obama quickly added, in his second consecutive day of remarking about the weather here in Russia. As reporters were ushered out, waiters stood in the hallway, carrying small bowls of caviar. No word if Obama nibbled, but the meeting went far longer than the White House had anticipated. Obama and Putin talked for two hours, roughly an hour longer than initially planned. What happened? We'll get a readout from the White House later today, but one thing's for sure, we'll not likely to hear talk of Obama seeing into Putin's soul.