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Putin-Dell slapdown at Davos

The Russian prime minister tells the Dell CEO: 'We don't need help. We are not invalids.'

By Peter Gumbel, Europe editor
January 28, 2009: 2:34 PM ET

DAVOS, Switzerland (Fortune) -- Ever since Vladimir Putin rose to power in 2000, his political opponents and entire countries have learned to their cost that he has a tough, demeaning streak. Wednesday it was Michael Dell's turn.

At the official opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Putin, now Russian Prime Minister, delivered a 40-minute speech touching on everything from why the dollar should not be the sole reserve currency to how the world needed to enter into a smart energy partnership with Russia. Then it was time for questions. First up: Dell. He praised Russia's technical and scientific prowess, and then asked: "How can we help" you to expand IT in Russia.

Big mistake. Russia has been allergic to offers of aid from the West ever since hundreds of overpaid consultants arrived in Moscow after the collapse of Communism, in 1991, and proceeded to hand out an array of advice that proved, at times, useless or dangerous.

Putin's withering reply to Dell: "We don't need help. We are not invalids. We don't have limited mental capacity." The slapdown took many of the people in the audience by surprise. Putin then went on to outline some of the steps the Russian government has taken to wire up the country, including remote villages in Siberia. And, in a final dig at Dell, he talked about how Russian scientists were rightly respected not for their hardware, but for their software. The implication: Any old fool can build a PC outfit. To top of page

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