Friday, November 14, 2008


Charles Bremner's anecdote of Vladimir Putin and Nicolas Sarkozy in the Times UK may almost fall into the category of too-good-to-be-true, but Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan have both found it too irresistible not to cite, and so do I.

(Of course, you are asked to imagine the exchange in French, the language of international diplomacy and the 19th Century Russian aristocracy.)

With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia's Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. "I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls," Mr Putin declared.

Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. "Hang him?" — he asked. "Why not?" Mr Putin replied. "The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein."

Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: "Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?" Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: "Ah — you have scored a point there."

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