PUTIN VERY MUCH wants to be Astrid’s boyfriend, but she is unsure. He keeps coming to me for advice. We meet at the bar of the hotel where she works and he confides in me. Putin usually drinks his vodka neat, and he sips it slowly. One conversation is the equivalent of one glass of vodka. He comes dressed in a beige turtleneck, a sports jacket, trying to play the part of normal Russian kommersant. Putin is well groomed for his Astrid, but she is not so sure. For one, he is older than her, much older. Astrid flits around behind the desks in her dress, with her necklace shining and her dangling earrings sparkling and her eyes twinkling. She is a pretty person and she is much too young for him. He could be her father, easily, and does any woman really want to be touched there by a man who could have changed her diapers? But still … he is Putin. A man of power. He’s had petty liberals poisoned and shot with a shrug of the shoulders or twitch of his cheeks. Putin is not to be trifled with. Of all the women he could have in the world — gymnasts, United Russia party apparatchiks, FSB secretaries, ABBA cover singers — Putin has chosen the completely unknown hotel manager Astrid. She is secretly touched in a way, touched that of all women in the world he has chosen her. “It’s a good hotel,” says Putin. “I like the way she runs the place.” He sips his drink and thumbs a copy of Bertolt Brecht’s 1934 book ThreePenny Novel. “It’s my favorite,” he says. Putin thinks that once Astrid reads the book, she will change her mind, see his heart, acknowledge him for what he is. A glance to the other side of the hotel shows she is aware of his presence, but has more important things to do. There is a conference of Social Democrats in the seminar room, and the coffee has fresh run out. Hands are wringing. Off to the kitchen in those sexy high heels. Bertolt Brecht will have to wait.