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NBC Flashback: Presidents and Putin

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Tensions between world leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin came to a head this week, as the United States and other powers suspended Russia’s membership in the G8 in response to the country’s actions in Ukraine. At his speech before the European Union on Wednesday, President Obama strongly condemned Russian leadership and warned Putin that Russia’s path would lead to “serious consequences.”

Though it’s hard to imagine these days, American presidents did not always have such a contentious relationship with Putin.

This week marks the anniversary of his formal election as the President of Russia in March of 2000. Fourteen years ago, the White House was hopeful that the new leader could steer the country toward reform. President George W. Bush met Putin for the first time at a NATO summit the following summer, very early in both men’s first terms.

At a press conference after the meeting, Bush was asked whether Americans could trust Russia. His answer would soon become infamous: The president said that he knew Putin was trustworthy and straightforward because he had “looked the man in the eye” and been able to “get a sense of his soul.”

Bush became disillusioned with Putin later in his presidency, and the Obama administration has been continually frustrated by the Russian leader. But there was little sign of future tension in that June 2001 press conference.(For more, see this New York Times piece about American Presidents and Putin.)

Courtesy of NBCUniversal Archives, you can watch the clip of Bush’s answer below, including the president’s reveal that he invited Putin to his ranch.

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