Russian President Vladimir Putin took his first trip abroad after returning to the Kremlin, thanks to his victory in the March presidential elections.
Those who hoped for a more mellow Putin immediately received a lesson that the Russian president remains committed to the tough policies that he enunciated during the campaign.
Putin appears inclined to give the opening festivities of the London Olympics a miss. This could well be a form of retaliation at the growing trend among Western leaders to boycott Euro 12 competitions in the Ukraine to protest against political repression there. If they can boycott so Putin can play the same game.
While the visits to Berlin and Paris took top billing, Putin pointedly began his trip next door in Belarus and the up-and-down relationship between Putin and the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko took an upward bounce.
Visiting Minsk on Thursday, Putin brought the cash-strapped Belarus dictator a new loan and promises of new Russian reactors that will help the energy industry in Belarus. He also promised to help Lukashenko resist pressure from the European Union:
"Russia and Belarus will coordinate efforts to counter attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Union State [between Russia and Belarus] and apply pressure through the introduction of restrictive measures or sanctions.”
A Putin advisor, Yury Ushakov, who served as Russia's ambassador to Washington warned that the Russians would take retaliatory measures against American officials if the Magnitsky bill is passed by Congress. The bill is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in police custody after accusing police investigators of a $230 million tax fraud. The bill would sanction persons involved in the Magnitsky case.
Security Council secretary, Nikolai Patrushev, said the Internet was being used by unspecified external forces "interested in aggravating the socio-political situation. "This is seen as presaging a crackdown against anti-regime bloggers who according to Patrushev are issuing "calls to unauthorized protests," relying on foreign sites.
In his visits to Berlin and Paris, the Russian leader remained adamant about blocking United Nations Security Council measures against the Assad regime in Syria. Putin defended this posture by saying that this was a way of preventing a civil war and increased suffering.
The only optimistic note was provided by Ushakov in terms of the relations between Putin and Barack Obama. He announced that the two will hold talks at the G 20 summit in Mexico this month and that both leaders have expressed a willingness to upgrade ties between Russia and the United States to a new qualitative level.
The improvement, however, was contingent on both sides maintaining a policy of "equality and noninvolvement" in each other's affairs.