Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday February 17, 2022
Putin’s Long Tables Explained
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s every move is dissected as fears escalate that he’ll soon order an invasion of Ukraine, but attention has recently turned to why Putin sits across from a comically large table during meetings with other world leaders, the most recent instance of which came Tuesday during a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
The issue took global spotlight last week after Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron sat at opposite ends of a table pegged by Reuters to be 20 feet long during their meeting in Moscow.
The extreme social distance came after Macron refused to take a Russian-administered Covid-19 PCR test, and Reuters reported Thursday it was because France didn’t want Russia to have access to Macron’s DNA, citing two anonymous sources close to Macron.
Another French official told Reuters the protocols were due to Putin living a “strict health bubble,” and the Kremlin confirmed the extreme distance is to protect Putin.
Scholz met the same distanced fate as Macron during his Tuesday meeting in Moscow, sparking memes and providing comic relief during otherwise tense negotiations.
The distance came after Scholz refused to take a Russian-administered Covid-19 PCR test, an unnamed German official told AFP Tuesday.
Putin even keeps his own aides at a major distance: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sat at the opposite end of a different, extremely long table during a one-on-one Monday meeting with the Russian president, but Lavrov’s distance may be due to his February 10 meeting with U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who Lavrov met in Moscow 10 days after Truss tested positive for Covid-19.
The extremely distanced table made its first appearance during Putin’s February 1 meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and The Guardian speculated at the time Orbán’s banishment was due to not quarantining before seeing Putin, a typical requirement for Russian officials coming face to face with the president. Putin has not kept all leaders at an extreme distance: Putin appeared in images in close proximity to Chinese President Xi Jingping and Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev during separate February meetings with the two, causing some to suggest that Putin’s decision on who to distance is a political power play.
The meeting between Putin and Scholz comes at a particularly pivotal moment in diplomacy between the West and Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stoked fear when he predicted Russia will invade Ukraine Wednesday, though his aides later clarified it was a dark joke. During a televised portion of their Monday meeting, Lavrov told Putin that Russia should continue to engage in diplomatic negotiations with the West, saying the possibility of a diplomatic solution in Ukraine is “far from exhausted.” Putin agreed to continue negotiations, even as the West increasingly warns of an impending Russian invasion. Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security advisor, said Sunday an attack could come as early as this week, while U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday an invasion could come in the next 48 hours. Russia said Tuesday they will pull back some of its more than 130,000 troops reportedly at the Ukraine border, a preliminary indication that Russia is willing to walk down its aggression, at least temporarily. (Forbes)