It's the Obama administration that has pressed the "reset button" on relations with Russia, scrapped plans for a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe, and toned down the rhetoric on NATO expansion. But it seems Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin still pines for Obama's predecessor. At his annual meeting with academics, think-tankers, and journalists, Putin barely mentioned Obama but "repeatedly expressed fondness for his friend 'George,' " says Cliff Kupchan, a Russia analyst at the Eurasia Group consultancy. "He clearly has a personal softness for George Bush," says Kupchan, who attended the meeting.
Why the nostalgia? After all, Bush put in place the very policies Obama is now trying to unwind, and many analysts say U.S. relations with Russia reached a post-Cold War low during his administration. One reason may be that both men respected raw power, not mealy-mouthed diplomacy. As a leader who thinks in terms of zero-sum games and projected strength, Putin could recognize and appreciate a similar tendency in his American counterpart. To Putin, it seems, the man matters as much as the message.