The incident of Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, and the dog is a famous one. It was 2007 and Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, was visiting Putin at his presidential residence in Sochi to discuss energy trade. Putin, surely aware of Merkel’s well-known fear of dogs, waited until the press gathered in the room, then called for his black Labrador to be sent in. The Russian president watched in unconcealed glee as the dog sniffed at Merkel, who sat frozen in fear.
Later, in discussing the incident with a group of reporters, Merkel attempted an explanation of Putin’s behavior. Her quote, reported in George Packer’s recent profile of Merkel in the New Yorker, is one of the most pithily succinct insights into Putin and the psychology of his 14-year reign that I have read:
“I understand why he has to do this — to prove he’s a man,” Merkel said. “He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.”