SEOUL (TIP): It’s official: even though they are involved in the worst east-west clash since the Cold War, Barack Obama would save Vladimir Putin from drowning. Obama on Friday delivered his answer to a question posed to Putin during a live television appearance earlier this month — would his US rival come to his rescue? Putin answered by saying that though he did not have a special personal relationship with Obama he thought the US leader was “a decent and brave person.”
“And of course, he would.” In a rare moment of humour at an alarming moment of the Ukraine crisis, Obama confirmed he would indeed throw the Russian leader a lifeline, when questioned by a US journalist. “I absolutely would save Mr Putin if he were drowning,” Obama said. “If anybody is out there drowning, I would save them. “I used to be a pretty good swimmer, I grew up in Hawaii,” Obama said, before adding with a rueful smile: “I am a little bit out of practice.”
South Koreans might have been puzzled by the question — given the national mourning over the loss of a ferry packed with high school children less than two weeks ago and the grim search for bodies in the upturned vessel. In a news conference with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, Obama also cast his own judgement on Putin’s character. “Mr Putin is not a stupid man,” Obama said, reasoning that the Russian leader had acknowledged that Western sanctions imposed as a result of Russia’s annexation of Crimea were having an impact on the Russian economy.
Even before the Ukraine showdown, Putin and Obama had a difficult relationship and had endured several photo-ops after summits noted for stilted body language. Obama once compared Putin to a “bored kid” slouching at the back of the class, and wondered whether the Kremlin chief’s public persona was just a “tough guy” act and a “shtick” to impress his domestic political constituency.