The 1999 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, held in New Zealand, brought leaders from around the world together to discuss the challenges of sustaining domestic economic reform and liberalization. Among those in attendance, was newly appointed and virtually unknown, Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin. During dinner, Putin unknowingly caught the attention of the then most powerful leader of the free world, President Bill Clinton. Surprisingly, Clinton casually walked over to Putin and asked if he could join him at his table, in which Putin graciously accepted. With the conclusion of the dinner fast approaching, Clinton further surprised the Prime Minister by inviting him to continue their conversation in a more casual setting; once again, Putin gladly accepted. As they departed the dining hall, other world leaders looked on and applauded their union. Later, the former Cold War KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti or Committee for State Security) officer recalled the moment in his memoirs stating, â€œBill Clinton is just a sincere person â€” open and friendly â€” and thatâ€™s very important.â€
Less than a year after the summit meeting, the Russian submarine â€œKurskâ€ exploded and sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea, trapping 118 sailors. Wanting to keep the details secret, the Russian Navy ordered a blockade of the area to deter international rescue efforts, as it tried to save the crew on its own. After four days of unsuccessful rescue attempts, President Clinton intervened and called Putin, strongly suggesting that he consider lifting the cordon and accept international assistance. Surprisingly, within an hour, Putin issued the order to lift the blockade â€” a decision clearly spurred by his newfound friend Bill Clinton.
On September 11, 2001, moments after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, the first foreign leader to call the White House was President Vladimir Putin. He not only offered use of Russian airspace for U.S. military flights, but also authorized his generals and intelligence officers to serve as consultants because of their insight to the perils of Afghanistan.
To say that U.S. and Russian relationships are complicated would certainly be an understatement. Yet, there is something to be said for the power of personal diplomacy. Are you trying to get through to someone and you feel as though youâ€™ve exhausted all options? If you havenâ€™t considered it, try a random act of kindness. You might be surprised how far it takes you.