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The Putin We Don't Know

File photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Andrei Vavra
(RIA Novosti political commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jan 04, 2007
Russian President Vladimir Putin's online news conference consists of about one million questions asked by mail, telephone, SMS and via the Internet. Most of the questions are serious and allow the president to speak on the key issues of life in Russia, yet there are quite a few questions that are not directly connected to politics.

Although Putin has held his high post for seven years and appears on television almost daily, he still remains an enigma, to a degree. We know his face, but can we say that we know him?

The objective of the Kremlin's PR team is to show the president in the best light. They show him talking with the people, including children, and at home with his family and pets. Everything looks fine, and we seem to have come very close to knowing the president, but for one thing.

Putin can quickly close the door into his life, thoughts, likes and dislikes. He guards his privacy against intruders, as he was probably taught to do in the KGB school. But we tend to revise the knowledge we receive at school, adjusting it to our temperament, way of thinking, views and values.

Putin added judo to his "special studies" in the KGB school. Judo is a martial art teaching you to respect your adversary.

Order and democracy

By the 1990s, Russia was ripe for reform. The wave of change that swept the country brought to the surface a new generation of politicians, businessmen and economists, as well as a great deal of opportunists. Each of them had their own formula for enrichment, which they claimed would benefit the country. The result was a rapid appearance and growth of Russian millionaires despite a persisting crisis in the economy.

Putin firmly put an end to the practice of splitting Russia into privately owned domains. Although his policy overstepped the role of the state, it was the only way to stop certain people from using state property for personal enrichment and whims.

It is one of the reasons why Russia has been accused of building a democracy that does not look like Western models and therefore cannot be regarded as a true democracy. Putin is invariably pained by these complaints.

Theories are very good, but is there a reliable formula for restoring order in a country that is being torn apart by financial and industrial groups, regional clans and outright criminals?

Putin started using India's example as an argument in discussions about universal recipes for building a democratic state.

"Your country is a major democracy," the Russian president said in Indian parliament in 2004. "You have overcome the most deeply embedded stereotypes according to which democratic principles can effectively develop only in European-type countries. India has proved that ancient systems can be modern and successfully respond to today's challenges. Your experience shows that democratic freedoms and human rights are both universal and inimitable values bearing the imprint of history, traditions and customs of the people that share them."

Skis and judo

Russia's first president Boris Yeltsin played tennis, which quickly made it a national sport. Although it had never been big at tennis before, Russia started winning leading positions in world tennis, ratings, and team and personal championships.

Putin is fond of mountain skiing, which has forced his bodyguards to learn mountain skiing too, sometimes breaking their legs in the process. But a president going down a slope with a well-trained team is a sight to behold. Hopefully, Russian mountain skiers are yet to rise to the top of the global charter. At least, ski slopes are being equipped for their training sponsored by Russian businessmen.

As to judo, we like our trim and lean president. Putin remains firm on his feet when his team turns grey and green with fatigue. He has apparently learned the trick of concentrating and using the body's hidden reserves from his judo practice.

Putin is the most physically fit and the best trained of all Russian presidents, not to mention communist party general secretaries of the Soviet era. No wonder we are proud of him.

Lyudmila, Masha, Katya and Connie

The president is married and has two daughters.

His wife Lyudmila has proposed establishing the Russian Language Center aimed at popularizing the Russian language and culture in the world.

His daughters Masha and Katya are students at St. Petersburg University.

There are several pets in the family, but Black Labrador Connie is the undeniable favorite and the star of newspaper and television reports. She often attends important international meetings. At the very least, she feels at home in the president's Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow.

This sometimes creates problems. Muslims are discouraged from keeping dogs in their homes, but what can a visiting Muslim dignitary do if Connie decides to "get acquainted" by licking his hand?

No one is perfect

The Russian president has his drawbacks. One of them is his totally illegible handwriting.

Another is his tendency to be late for official functions. On the other hand, the latter can be interpreted as perfectionism: Putin never starts a new project without completing the previous one to his liking.

His third drawback is his reluctance to fire people. However, he sometimes replaces those he had dismissed with completely unexpected candidates.

This seems to be about all I can think of for now.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Source: RIA Novosti

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