Biden meets Putin: Welcome to the sex-appeal summit
As part of his two-day visit to the Russian capital, Joe Biden met with Vladimir Putin, and gave a speech at the Moscow State University where he discussed ways of improving relations between their respective countries. But more on that in a moment. First, a brief word on what it is that makes these two leaders appealing for their respective countrymen – and, of course, the women.
Both the American and Russian politicians have had their share of tough-guy images emblazoned in the media world, although Biden’s image seems to have been at least partially the result of a well-crafted spoof (But not completely. Indeed, Biden may be the world’s first politician who has a website dedicated entirely to his near-perfect teeth).
In January 2010, The Onion, a satirical American website, began circulating photo-shopped images of the American vice president in various “masculine” poses, which eventually attracted the mock wrath of the White House.
“After encountering resistance from the Obama administration, Cognac maker Hennessy has agreed to pull a series of ads starring Vice president Joe Biden,” announced the mock news report.
Hennessy, the spoof news story continued, sought to link its famous alcoholic beverage to the “Vice president’s suave, original personality.”
According to a Hennessy 'spokesman,' Biden’s “sly, trademark grin and international playboy status, made him the perfect face for the luxury brand.”
The spoof advertisements that accompanied the ‘breaking news story’ showed various images of Biden enjoying a glass of his favorite drink, including one where he is reclining in a black leather chair with a voluptuous brunette draped sideways across his photo-shopped torso.
Another shows America’s jocular VP posing loose-tied in a dance club between two photogenic women, a glass cradled in one hand and a cigar in the other while sporting his trademark smile.
The spoof apparently paid off. According to an article in The New York Times, the video “Biden Criticized for Appearing in Hennessy Ads” has been viewed over 450,000 times since its launch in January. For a website that attracts some 7.5 million unique visitors every month, those are significant numbers.
Biden, 68, is the first Roman Catholic to be elected as the US vice president.
Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, 58, who has been captured on more than one occasion bare-chested astride a horse in the Russian outback, has also attracted his fair share of media attention over his particular style of “political magnetism.”
Part of Putin’s magnetism may have more to do with his personal political interests, however, than any photographs.
In November, for example, ministers from several countries gathered in St. Petersburg at Putin’s invitation for a five-day conference with the aim of protecting tigers. It has been documented that just 3,000 of the endangered species are estimated to be living in the wild.
During the tiger conference, Putin heaped praise on Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio for attending the summit despite a series of dangerous incidences.
DiCaprio’s first plane en route to Russia’s second largest city was forced to make an emergency landing after losing an engine, while his second attempt was thwarted after his aircraft encountered strong headwinds.
"A person with less stable nerves could have decided against coming, could have read it as a sign – that it was not worth going," the Prime Minister said.
Putin added that, in Russia, DiCaprio's efforts made him a "muzhik" - or "real man".
In October, the Prime Minister received an unusual gift on the occasion of his 58th birthday – an erotic calendar put together by 12 female journalism students at the prestigious Moscow State University. Each month features one of the students posing in lingerie, alongside warm words of adoration.
"The fires are out, but I'm still burning," the March model writes – a tongue-in-cheek reference to the wildfires that swept across parts of Russia during last summer’s brutal heat and drought.
Putin personally assisted in the fire-fighting effort by dropping water from a plane.
The creators of the calendar said they had not consulted with Putin's office or anyone else in politics before developing their project.
Beyond the brawn
A meeting between Biden and Putin and other assembled diplomats lasted for almost two hours, according to journalists. The two leaders discussed a range of thorny, long-standing issues, including US-Russia cooperation on Euro missile defense, the Jackson-Vanik amendment and Russia's long-awaited accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
But the biggest surprise of the day came from Putin, who floated the idea of creating a visa-free regime between the United States and Russia.
"We are currently engaged in active talks with European countries on introducing a visa-free regime between Russian and European Union countries,” Putin acknowledged. “If Russia and the United States agreed on a mutual visa-free regime before we would achieve this with the European Union, this would be a historic step in the development of Russian-American ties."
Putin added that eliminating visa requirements between the two former Cold War superpowers would “break all the ancient stereotypes in relations between Russia and the United States. We would turn an important page in our past and start everything from scratch."
Although Biden called Putin’s plan “a good idea,” he focused his attention instead on developing economic progress between the two states, which he said falls far short of the potential.
"Russia was America's 37th largest export market in 2010,” Biden noted. “The value of the goods that cross our border, the United States' border with Canada and Mexico, every few days exceeds the annual value of our trade with Russia. We've got to do better. We've got to do better. And I believe we can."
Finally, the US Vice President paid a visit to Russia’s liberal opposition, an incoherent movement that has failed miserably to win over the hearts and minds of Russians ever since the liberal reforms of the nihilistic 90s backfired with disastrous consequences, and expressed the opinion that the United States is not interested in seeing Vladimir Putin seek a third term in office.
The Kremlin will certainly interpret such a comment as arrogant interference in its internal affairs, and all the more so in light of America’s own glaring failures to hold firm to democratic principles.
George W. Bush, for example, was never elected into office in the 2000 presidential elections, but rather appointed by a Supreme Court decision over the Democratic candidate Al Gore, who, incidentally, won the popular vote, yet not the keys to the Oval Office.
Despite these shortcomings, US leaders feel obliged to make such comments in order to boost their political credentials back home.
Unfortunately, it does next to nothing for enhancing their attractiveness in Russia.