Putin 'all show and a slippery character'
Published 01/06/2011 | 05:00
FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern described Russian leader Vladimir Putin, pictured left, as "a slippery character" who was "all show and no action", according to a leaked US embassy cable, writes Shane Phelan.
Mr Ahern made the comments to future US presidential candidate, Republican Senator John McCain.
The comments will come as a surprise to many given that Mr Ahern -- once famously dubbed "the most skilful, the most devious, the most cunning of them all" by the late Charles Haughey -- was rarely quoted as saying anything undiplomatic during his 11 years in office.
In fact, he became adept at using 'Bertiespeak' -- the art of answering tricky questions in an ambiguous and incomprehensible fashion -- to sidestep many controversies.
However, it is clear from the cable, which US officials designated "secret", that Mr Ahern sometimes let the mask slip in private and could use uncompromising and direct language when he wanted to.
The comments are attributed to Mr Ahern during a discussion he had with two American senators. The dispatch describes how he vented his frustrations about Mr Putin following close-up dealings with him while Ireland held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2004.
Mr Ahern took a swipe at Mr Putin after being asked about Russia's neighbour Ukraine, which was in political turmoil at the time.
He is also said to have criticised Mr Putin for failing to follow through on pledges made to the EU.
According to Ambassador James Kenny, America's top diplomat in Ireland at the time, Mr Ahern made the remarks during a wide-ranging discussion with US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham in December 2004.
The Taoiseach was asked by Senator McCain for his opinion on Ukraine, to which Mr Ahern is said to have replied that Mr Putin, the Russian President, was "a slippery character".
At the time, Ukraine was in the middle of the Orange Revolution after the previous month's presidential election run-off had been rigged in favour of the incumbent, Viktor Yanukovych.
Mr Putin had been a personal supporter of Mr Yanukovych. After 13 days of mass protest, the Ukrainian Supreme Court annulled the election result.
A second poll resulted in Mr Yanukovych's opponent Viktor Yushchenko, who had been poisoned months beforehand, being elected.