Obama’s Vow to Aid a Drowning Putin Hints at Reserve of Goodwill

U.S. President Barack Obama said that he’d save Vladimir Putin’s life given the chance, playing down reports of personal animosity with the Russian leader.

“I absolutely would save Mr. Putin if he were drowning,” Obama told reporters at a news briefing in Seoul today. “I used to be a pretty good swimmer. I grew up in Hawaii.”

Obama was responding to the Russian President’s assertion last week that while the men had failed to form a close relationship, they retained sufficient goodwill to help each other out in a pinch. The image of Obama helping Putin when in need contrasted with the standoff in eastern Ukraine, where the U.S. has accused Russian forces of stirring up violence.

Obama is a “decent and brave man” who would save him from drowning, Putin said April 17 during his annual televised call-in show in Moscow. He went on to warn other nations about their treatment of Russia.

“Everything in the world is very interdependent,” Putin said. “So when one tries to punish someone, like a naughty child, have them kneel on peas so it would hurt -- in the end they will saw off the branch they’re sitting on, and at some point, they will of course understand this.”

Even as Obama threatens increased sanctions against Russia for its incursions into Ukraine, he’s reliant on Putin’s influence in Syria to try to contain that country’s civil war.

‘Bored Kid’

Obama said last August the two leaders “don’t have a bad personal” relationship, describing his conversations with Putin as “candid,” “blunt” and “oftentimes constructive.”

“I know the press likes to focus on body language and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom,” Obama told journalists Aug. 9. “But the truth is, is that when we’re in conversations together, oftentimes it’s very productive.”

Today, Obama suggested his pledge of lifesaving aid for the Russian leader stemmed from a general principle, rather than any special affection for Putin.

“I’d like to think that if anybody’s out there drowning I’m going to save them,” said Obama, 52. Still, “I’m a little out of practice,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Talev in Seoul at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net Ben Sills

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