Vladimir Putin denies setting his dog on Angela Merkel

Vladimir Putin denies setting his dog on Angela Merkel

SMH — Jan 13, 2016

It’s a tale of ruthlessness and intimidation that has dogged one of the most important political relationships of the 21st century almost since it began.

Now Vladimir Putin has spoken out to deny the rumour that he used his pet labrador to frighten Angela Merkel in a remarkable power play at one of their very first meetings.

The incident, which has become infamous in Germany, took place at a meeting at Mr Putin’s Sochi residence in 2007.

The story goes that Mr Putin, who had been briefed on Ms Merkel’s fear of dogs, brought his black labrador Connie to the meeting.

“The dog does not bother you, does she? She’s a friendly dog and I’m sure she will behave herself,” he was quoted as telling Ms Merkel at the time.

“No, she doesn’t eat journalists after all,” Ms Merkel is believed to have replied in Russian.

Despite her joke, photographs from the meeting show Ms Merkel looking extremely uncomfortable as Connie settles near her feet, while Mr Putin appears to be smirking.

Although Ms Merkel never commented publicly on the incident, the rumour grew that the move had been a deliberate ploy to intimidate the chancellor during negotiations.

But Mr Putin quashed that tale on Monday, telling German journalists he intended no such thing.

“I did not know anything about that,” he said when asked whether he was deliberately trying to frighten or embarrass the chancellor. “I showed her my dog because I thought she would like it. I told her so later and apologised,” he said in an interview with Bild.

Mr Putin added that he respects Ms Merkel and considers her a “sincere” person.

“She is very sincere and highly professional. In any case, I think the level of trust between us is very high,” he said.

Mr Putin and Ms Merkel’s relationship has emerged as one of the most important – and pugnacious – between European leaders in recent times.

They literally speak the same language – Mr Putin speaks German and served with the KGB in Dresden, while Ms Merkel learnt Russian while she was growing up in East Germany – and appear to have built a relatively frank rapport.

But the relationship between the two has been markedly cooler than Mr Putin’s close friendship with Ms Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder.

In particular, Ms Merkel has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Mr Putin in Europe and has been instrumental in introducing and upholding European sanctions against Russia following the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Connie, who died in 2014 at the age of 15, was given to Mr Putin in 2000 by Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s then minister of emergency situations, who is now defence minister.

She was by all accounts just as friendly as Mr Putin claimed.

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