This site is our response to everyone who has ever asked us what Russia is like, and for anyone who might have never wondered, but should have. It’s an attempt to put into words Russia as we see it; our go at explaining that big old riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, that in fact, never went away. It’s about understanding the views, opinions and psyche of a nation that hits our headlines daily, without many of us ever really knowing why. And ultimately, it’s about providing a picture of Russia, as seen first-hand by two people, who think that although the journey they’re on to try and understand this country might never end, the process itself is worth sharing.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Lady-killer in a Kimono

As I was saying yesterday, Putin’s been knocking around right at the top for the past decade. Kommersant took a look back at what journalists in Russia and abroad were writing about the mysterious judo enthusiast just after he was first appointed Prime Minister in August 1999.

“Quiet, like a shrew” – the view from Russia

“He is considered to be very cautious. One of Putin’s constant expressions is: “But is it legal?” (News report on TV channel RTR, 9th August 1999)

“Putin’s appearance – that of a man as quiet as a shrew – right in the centre of the Russian catastrophe will go unnoticed.”
(Zavtra newspaper, 10th August, 1999)

“Appointing the chief of the security services - Vladimir Putin – as the official successor to the presidency can be called nothing other than yet another crazy whim of the President. Putin is a man who is almost unknown in the country and although he seems to be intelligent, he is a military man through and through and devoid not only of charisma, but also of any experience of managing state affairs,”
(Parliamentary Newspaper, 11th August, 1999)

“No other civil servant has ever created so many problems for journalists than Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. VV, as they used to call him in Petersburg, is one of those people about whom nothing is known except for the things that he wants to tell you.”
(Komsomolskaya Pravda, 13th August, 1999)

“A retired colonel, an essentially non-military man with the reputation as a playboy no worse than Yury Skuratov [ed: then-Prosecutor General, who had recently been discredited after apparently being shown on a secret tape participating in an orgy with prostitutes]... he is only capable of scaring (although he wouldn’t like to admit it) a dissident with memories of repression 30 years back.
(Kompaniya, 16th August, 1999)

“It is well known that Boris Yeltsin has always preferred his politicians big and strong, with fists, wide shoulders and booming voices. Vladimir Putin breaks down the boundaries of the President’s pets. He’s short, balding and generally somewhat unnoticeable.”
(Argumenty i Fakty, 18th August, 1999)

“Women have always liked him: blue eyes, sporty (they say he often used to stay late at work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and sit in the office in a kimono to relax). The blue eyes obviously had a hypnotizing effect on women – despite his bald patch, they still call him blond. When Sobchak lost the elections and Putin bade farewell to the collective, women cried (actually cried, this is not an exaggeration or a metaphor – they actually sobbed en masse).”
(Profil, 30th August, 1999)

“A man with the face of a rat and mousy-coloured hair” – the Western media have their say
“Always obliging, but not exactly hospitable… he has an unrivalled ability to say everything by saying nothing. He has not one charismatic character trait, not even a negative one.
(La Stampa, Italy, 10th August)

“Vladimir Putin – is rather surprisingly faceless bureaucrat with a background in the security services and who dreams of their rebirth. His most remarkable character trait is his complete interchangeability with his predecessor.”
(The Times, UK, 10th August).

“Before resigning Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin returned from the conflict (in Chechnya) and declared that Russia could potentially lose the region of Dagestan… It is precisely for this reason that Yeltsin summoned a “grey cardinal” and “imperialist” to sort out the situation.”
(The Baltimore Sun, USA, 10th August)

“Putin is a supporter of taking a hard line and his devotion to the President will without a doubt be ruthless. The question is – how far can he go?”
(Japan Times, Japan, 11th August)

“Putin remained in the shadows for 17 long years serving the security services. A man with the face of a rat and mousy-coloured hair, he has a dull, grey outward appearance of a real spy.”
(The Jerusalem Post, Israel, 11th August)

“The 46-year old newly appointed Prime Minister is a little man with a downcast gaze, who cannot stand being in the press and remains unbeknown to the majority of people.”
(Le Monde, France, 11th August)

“The world has been confronted with two, entirely different perceptions of a man who will shape Russia’s 21st century agenda – a spy, planning on trampling freedom of speech, or a valiant pro-democracy, pro-reform warrior.”
(Los Angeles Times, USA, 11th August)

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