Putin, Obama seek entente over breakfast

NOVO OGAREVO: US President Barack Obama and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today sought to smooth out differences over a lavish breakfast feast marked by expressions of mutual admiration.

After a pre-summit media spat, the pair sought to project a polite atmosphere as they met for the first time over a spread of Russian pancakes and black caviar on the terrace of Putin’s country residence. The US president said last week the Russian premier had “one foot” stuck in the past of the Cold War, prompting Putin to quip that he was standing firmly on both feet.

But speaking in front of the press as they nestled in gold-leaf, baroque chairs on the second floor of Putin’s forest home on the outskirts of Moscow, the two leaders went out of their way to exchange pleasantries.

Obama praised Putin — still seen by most as Russia’s de facto leader — for his “extraordinary work” as president between 2000 and 2008 and now in his new post as prime minister. Putin, a former KGB agent, told the US president in turn: “We associate your name with the hopes of developing our relations.” “The history of Russian-US relations... has had different shades. There were years of a true flourishing but there were also some quite grey days and even (days of) confrontation.”

Obama, who yesterday clinched a series of deals with the new Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev, said the talks were an “excellent opportunity to put US-Russian relations on a much stronger footing.” “We may not agree on everything, but we have consultations that will serve the Russian and the American people,” he added.

As soon as the protocol was over Putin jumped up and led Obama to a window looking out on the terrace set for their breakfast of smoked Beluga and a samovar.

“We prepared a Russia-style breakfast for you!” Putin said, showing off waiters in folk costumes and musicians with balalaikas. Their meeting ran two hours, a half-hour longer than expected.