George W. Bush says Vladimir Putin is ‘trustworthy’ in 2001

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Ilya Ponomarev, former deputy of Russia’s State Duma (the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia), was a member of the Russian Parliament from 2007 until 2016. On multiple occasions, he went toe-to-toe with Vladimir Putin. Yet when he encountered Putin, he has revealed that the Russian President made him feel as though the 70-year-old was the person who knew him best.

Mr Ponomarev, who now lives in exile in Kyiv, Ukraine, frequently spoke out against Putin. In 2014, he was the sole member of the Russian Parliament to vote against the annexation of Crimea, which illegally went ahead that year.

The author of the 2022 book Does Putin Have to Die correctly predicted that this move would lead to a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

He also accused Putin of rigging elections. But it was his vote against the invasion of Crimea that led to him being forced out of his own country while a sitting member of Parliament.

Despite evidently not seeing eye-to-eye with the Russian leader, Mr Ponomarev has revealed in an interview with that he could very easily have been swept up by him.

Mr Ponomarev told how the President’s 16 years spent in the KGB has influenced how he interacts with others, enabling him to fraternise easily.

While he may be a “pretty bad strategist”, Putin is a “perfect” manipulator who can quickly develop a level of trust and affinity with whomever he is talking to, Mr Ponomarev said.

However, Mr Ponomarev noted how he had been forewarned about Putin’s skills so was therefore on his guard — but had he not been, he would have thought he just met his new “best friend”.

So convincing is Putin, Mr Ponomarev said, he would have believed that he knew him better than his own wife.

Speaking on the eve of the anniversary of Russia invading Ukraine, Mr Ponomarev said: “I would say he’s a brilliant psychologist. He’s a very talented manipulator. He’s a pretty bad strategist but as for a manipulator, he’s perfect.

“If I didn’t know that in advance, if I wasn’t prepared, I would think, ‘Oh wow, that’s like my best friend, the first person who understands me in full better than my wife.’ But that’s his KGB training. That’s what he was very talented at doing.”

He believes his mastery for manipulating and therefore forming connections helped when Putin would meet other world leaders, such as George W. Bush.

The 43rd President of the US met Putin for the first time face to face in June 2001 at a conference in Slovenia — and Putin did more than just win him over.

It was there that former President Bush famously said he looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his soul and a person he believed was “trustworthy”, a statement he later regretted making.

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The now 76-year-old told reporters: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

President Bush, who invited Putin to his ranch in Texas later that year, then added: “I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.”

This comment was met with laughter when Putin then said he was going to invite President Bush not only to Russia but to his “own home”.

Mr Ponomarev added: “Global leaders always see him as very sensible, reasonable, and thoughtful. That’s what he was trained to deliver and that’s what he was doing all the time.”

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