President Vladimir Putin made joking references to the sexual assault accusations against Israeli President Moshe Katsav during a meeting with the visiting Israeli prime minister in remarks that shocked longtime Kremlin-watchers.
A Kremlin spokesman said Friday that Putin’s meaning had been lost in translation from Russian to English.
As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with the Russian leader in an ornate reception room in the Kremlin on Wednesday, reporters overheard Putin tell him: “Say hello to your president. He really surprised us.”
The microphones were then cut off, but a member of the Israeli delegation told The Associated Press that Putin went on to say of Katsav: “I met him. He didn’t look like a guy who could be with 10 women.”
The Israeli ambassador quipped, “It seems like he’s envious of him,” and Olmert told his host: “I wouldn’t envy him,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press.
Russia’s Kommersant daily conveyed a more graphic version of the conversation, quoting Putin as saying: “He turns out to be a really powerful guy! He raped 10 women!” It also quoted Putin himself as saying “We all envy him.”
Putin is a really bad guy. Many believe that the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya on Putin’s birthday was not a coincidence. She had been a harsh critic of his regime:
At a time when the Russian media is falling over itself to fawn over Mr Putin and sustain a Soviet-style cult of personality around him, [Politskovskaya’s] work provides a lone dissenting voice and a voice that cannot be heard in Russia — at least outside the pages of her liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Politkovskaya does what few other Russian commentators dare and steps over an invisible line, mocking Mr Putin in an intensely personal way; comparing him to Soviet leader Josef Stalin, to a pathetic literary creation of Nikolay Gogol’s and to a bland, over-promoted spy who should never have been elevated to the dizzy Kremlin heights. She paints a relentlessly bleak view of the state of Russia today chastising those in the West whom she says the status quo “suits” and, depressingly, holds out little or no hope for improvement.
In a frank interview with The Independent yesterday she said she was fearful for the future of a country she loved, and hoped against the odds that a viable form of democracy might take hold one day.
“Under President Putin we won’t be able to forge democracy in Russia and will only turn back to the past. I am not an optimist in this regard and so my book is pessimistic. I have no hope left in my soul. Only a change of leadership would allow me to have hope but it’s a political winter. The Kremlin is turning the country back to its Soviet past.”
Admitting that her book is staunchly anti-Putin, she claims that the Russian leader rues the day in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and is in the process of rebuilding his own version of the USSR which has already started to seriously impinge upon people’s basic freedoms.
“My heroes are those people who want to be individuals but are being forced to be cogs again,” she said. “In an Empire there are only cogs.”
Describing how Mr Putin has been careful to sideline any viable opponents, she argues, however, that Russia’s liberals, thrashed at the ballot box and discredited in the eyes of many Russians, are still a force to be reckoned with. “There are many people in Russia who would be strong leaders,” she said. “You might think they have their faults but nothing could be worse than Putin.”
She was writing an article on torture in Chechnya when she was murdered.