Putin exposed: Subtle way Russian leader seeks to dominate opponents in one-on-one talks

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The Russian leader has often been photographed and filmed hosting talks and conferences with world leaders at a bizarrely long table in the Kremlin. Most recently, he sat at one end of the five-metre-long piece of furniture as he spoke with UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.

But the Russian president uses subtle tactics in these meetings to gain an advantage over his diplomatic guests in Moscow, Dr Patrick Stewart of the University of Arkansas told Express.co.uk.

Putin, with his 5 ft 5-inch stature, is just shy of the 5 ft 6-inch height of the UN Secretary-General.

But in recordings from the meeting earlier in April, the Russian leader uses his positioning at the table to appear more in control of the conversation with Mr Guterres.

Professor Stewart told Express.co.uk that the height difference between the two politicians when sat down at the table could be down to “strategic moves”.

Putin “leaning forward” could be a sign of him asserting “dominance” over the Portuguese diplomat, whereas Mr Guterres’s “slumping” in his chair could indicate an effort to “appear amenable” in negotiations.

The answer could also lie in a “structural” explanation of the setting, Dr Stewart added.

The “guest seat cushion may have more ‘give’ to place opposition in [a] less ‘supported’ position compared with the host chair” occupied by Putin, he suggested.

Dr Stewart also explained the confounding distance at which the Russian leader places his political guests.

Keeping the UN leader metres away at all times could “be more of an indicator of and emphasis on the distance between the two parties in reaching an agreement”, he argued.

There could also be an element of Covid paranoia to the move, Dr Stewart continued, given the similar protocol directed at French President Emmanuel Macron back in February.

The French leader, who visited the Kremlin just a fortnight before Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine, refused to take a Russian COVID-19 test before meeting with the Russian president.

Sources close to the newly-re-elected president said Mr Macron feared Russia would keep his DNA on file if he were to take a Covid test in Moscow.

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One source told Reuters: “We knew very well that meant no handshake and that long table. But we could not accept that they get their hands on the president’s DNA.”

Dmitry Peskov, the mouthpiece for the Kremlin, said Mr Macron’s refusal to comply with the request meant he must maintain a constant distance of six metres from the Russian leader.

He added: “There is no politics in this, it does not interfere with negotiations in any way.”

But just days after the two leaders were photographed on opposite ends of the lengthy table, Putin was snapped shaking hands with – and sitting close to – Kazakhstan’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It is not known whether the Kazakh leader passed a Russian Covid test prior to the close-quarters meeting.

Experts have frequently argued that the senior Kremlin staff harbouring fears for the president’s health during the pandemic could partly explain the so-called ‘long table’ tactic.

University College London professor of Russian politics, Dr Ben Noble, put forward that the political fallout from Putin’s death, or serious illness, as a result of contracting Covid could explain the exaggerated distance.

He told The Independent: “Given Putin’s centrality to the functioning of the current system – which often relies more on informal connections than formal institutions – his illness poses an existential threat to its continued functioning.”

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