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May 9, 2005

Atlas Shrug


With all the harsh words leading up to the Bush-Putin face-off, I was just itching for a tension-packed visual to get a handle on.  Instead, however, the newswires have been mostly filled with glad handing, the two warheads bending over backward not to make the other look bad. 

If I had to pick the phoniest image, it would be the one of Bush and Putin in the presidential palace playing geography.  After days of Bush tearing Russia apart for having occupied its satellite states after WWII, this scene seems a little off the wall.  With his best “hell if I know how I got into Yale” face on, Bush pretends to let Putin show him what’s what in his own backyard. 

Looking at the map, Putin appears to be pointing toward the Sea of Japan.  (If asked, I’m sure both parties would insist they were discussing North Korea.)  Looking at the body language, however, it appears Bush has put the lean on Putin, shifting the former spy as far east as he can go.  (At least, without drowning.)

Whether by accident or not, the shot ends up reinforcing the Administration’s theme of the week.  In other words, Dubya won’t stand for Vladamir putting his hands anywhere near the Eastern European or Central Asian republics that Washington wants permanently split off from the Russian fold. 

In fact, if you track Bush’s eyes, it seems that — at the same time he graciously attends to his host — he never shifts his focus from that crucial political territory further west.

(image: AFP/ITAR-TASS in YahooNews)

  • Tilli (Mojave Desert)

    Why does Bush, except for when highly peeved, always look like he just doesn’t give a damn?

  • Kelly

    excellent site. i read it every day and try to apply what i learn to my own work.
    Im fairly certain that Putin is pointing at Vladivostok. The map in your photo seems to have a curved latitude and Japan is off the map to the right.
    Vladivostok is a very important trade city for Russia and a point of contention between Russia and China. If i recall correctly Russia is not economically able to develop Vladivostok and its surrounding area, so China wants to lease it just as England did with Hong Kong.
    other articles:

  • gordo

    Vladivostok is south of the region Putin touches. The red line under his hand is the Russian border. Since this is a staged photo, it makes sense that Putin would avoid pointing at a potentially controversial place like North Korea or Vladivostok. No point in encouraging the inevitable guessing game as to what they’re talking about.
    As for composition, it seems to me that Bush isn’t pushing Putin east, rather Putin is leading Bush further than Bush is prepared to go, and throwing him off balance in the process.
    That’s just a coincidental image, of course. In reality, both leaders have put on the media faces that have served them so well in the past–Putin has his “smart and unsentimental” face, and Bush has his “foreign policy savant” face.

  • h

    Looks like oil to me. the city, Komsomolsk, is on the Amur river (Putin points to its general location); a great mainland location for Sakhalin oil industry support. (Sakhalin Project II [lead by Shell] is currently the largest oil project in the world?)
    Sakhalin Island is east of Putin’s hand, and north of Japan. Think of the oil reserves in the north slope of Alaska (not ANWR, but the north slope) and you’ve got a basic idea of the size of Sakhalin oil and gas reserves.
    Komsomolsk to Moscow flights weekly. Transportation development is up. US and Japan and Russia are best friends when it comes to east Russian oil and gas production. (profit overshadows Japan’s bitteness over losing Sakhalin to the Russians [~1947])
    further resources:
    official page:
    aussie interests:,,0_S1-1_1z1h-2_-3_PWB110444228-4_-5_-6_-7_,00.html
    japan v russia:
    indigenous peoples protest:
    one example of environmental concerns:
    oil profits and deal making:

  • gordo

    A detail I hadn’t noticed at first–Putin gestures with his whole hand, instead of pointing with his finger. I think this is meant to indicate that they are speaking in terms of generalities, not specifics. As I said before, I think that Putin was careful to avoid feeding the rumor mill.

  • David_Heidelberg

    I think that you’re overanalysing the photograph.
    By the look on Dubya’s face, I’d suggest that this is the first time he has ever seen a map before.

  • zencomix

    What? No pictures of Bush and Putin holding hands?!?

  • aethorian

    It might be what we don’t see on Putin’s map that counts (note how the map’s right edge is cropped off.)
    Take a look at this annotated image and map. As Gordo mentioned, Putin’s fingers are gesturing over the map—not touching it—about 600 km northeast of Vladivostok. If you trace their eyelines, Putin and Bush are definitely looking above Putin’s hand, eastward towards Sakhalin Island.
    Now, Vlad and George, good buddies that they are, might be going on a relaxing fishing trip, but there are much bigger fish to fry east of Sakhalin Island, where you run right into the Kuril Islands, stretching between the northern tip of Japan and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. Ownership of the Kurils has long been contested by Japan and Russia, who happen to have an important centennial anniversary coming up.
    It’s purely speculation, of course, but maybe there’s a Russian move in the offing. Putin and Koizumi have been getting chummy lately, and the axis of allies (sans Tony B.) looked positively frat-happy in Moscow a few days ago. This may be a very favorable year to settle the peace:

    For Russia and Japan, the year 2005 is a symbolic year representing an opportunity that may not arise again. Not only does it mark the 150th anniversary of the treaty of commerce and friendship between Moscow and Tokyo, but it also marks the 100th anniversary of the peace treaty of Portsmouth, signed in 1905, at the conclusion of the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. Further, it commemorates the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. History will look kindly on Koizumi and Putin, if they can resolve this long-standing and festering territorial dispute once and for all. The two leaders need to hammer out a proper road map for settlement of the territorial issue if they wish to secure their places in history.

    And while we’re wondering what may be over the horizon, perhaps there’s a place for an American President to get in on the deal, too.

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