It was strange enough that the World Economic Forum invited Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to give the opening address at the conference. After all, Russia doesn't seem interested in playing by the international rules that the forum is so anxious to promote. Only recently, Moscow shut off the gas, again, to Ukraine, which impacted flows to Europe. And that's not even to mention that journalists and human rights workers get murdered regularly in Russia, with the real culprits never found.
But what was even stranger was Putin's shabby performance. Following the impressive special address by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, the Russian premier's speech underlined why China is surging ahead economically while Russia is stuck with a limping economy that depends on the price of oil.
Putin never cracked a smile, and clearly enjoyed criticizing America's troubled economy and calling for a multipolar world that lessened American dominance. What was incredible was when the Russian leader, whose government throws private entrepreneurs in jail when they displease him and seizes their property on bogus charges, started lecturing the West about the risks of too much government interference in the private sector. And when he claimed that the Internet was completely free and fully available in every town in Russia, even in Siberia. And when he issued veiled threats to Europe about dealing with Russia properly on energy issues.
Wen's performance was masterful. Putin's wasn't ready for international prime time.