Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during Korea-Russia Business Dialogue at Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul, Wednesday. Putin arrived in Seoul earlier in the day for a one-day visit for the second summit talks with Park. / AP-Yonhap
By Kim Tae-gyu
What is wrong with Russian President Vladimir Putin or which one among his subordinates is responsible for a public relations (PR) havoc in his South Korean visit?
The Russian president violated key protocol not just for a summit with President Park Geun-hye without apologies but acted in a way that goes against a visitor paying a call on his neighbor.
First, Cheong Wa Dae announced on Nov. 1 that Putin would be visiting Korea for two days over Nov. 12-13 at Park's invitation and kept confirming the schedule.
So it came as a surprise when Russia said this week that its head of state would reduce his stay to one day, arriving here at 3 a.m. Wednesday and leaving later in the day.
Worse, he reached Park's office at 1:30 p.m. for a summit with Park, 30 minutes later than originally scheduled for some reason.
The result: Park had to have a luncheon with Putin later than 4:30 p.m. after a press conference.
If Russia unilaterally changed Putin's itinerary just ahead of his visit, observers point out that it shows great disrespect to Korea and Park. Cheong Wa Dae refused to make comments.
"Putin is known to be an authoritarian leader. He seems to believe that he can act in the world scene as he does in his own country. That's why his unpredictable and problematic behavior continues," Prof. Shin Yul at Myongji University said. "That is feared to negatively affect the relationship between the two countries."
As Shin said, this is not the first time that Putin's alleged lack of decorum was on people's lips.
When Park and Putin held their first summit in Russia on the sidelines of the G20 meetings in September, Putin's manner was also questioned ― it started almost two hours later than initially planned due to previous schedules.
"Park looked very tired but Putin did not bother to offer any apology or explanation on the long delay. Unlike Park who sat politely to speak, Putin just read the prepared scripts with his legs widely stretched," said a source who is familiar with the issue.
In September 2008, when Park's immediate predecessor Lee Myung-bak visited Russia, Putin was supposed to meet Lee at 5 p.m. (local time) at a government guesthouse in Moscow.
However, Putin appeared just before 6 p.m. Back then, Korean officials said that the postponement was arranged in advance but suspicions surfaced that Putin simply broke the promise.
One consolation for Korean leaders may be that the notoriety of Putin-the-unpredictable is not just limited to them and included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who Park deems as her role model.
When Merkel paid her first visit to Moscow as chancellor in 2006, Putin gave her a plush toy dog with a short leash as a gift. Putin is believed to have known that Merkel is afraid of dogs after having been bitten when she was young.
In the next meeting in 2007 in Putin's summer residence in Sochi, he brought his pet dog, a black Labrador, a hunting dog. It sniffed Merkel and sat at her feet to her great discomfort.