The Kremlin’s neo-Soviet Dog and Pony Show

The Moscow Times reports:

The prime minister broke his call-in show records, discussing gold teeth and his love for animals and granting a birthday wish.

Rostov resident Tatyana Romanenko probably had a dream birthday Thursday, when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin bestowed his congratulations on her in a nationally televised show.

Romanenko, who turned 55, asked Putin for his best wishes in one of the more than 2 million e-mails, phone calls and text messages received by his aides in the run-up to his call-in show. Putin, known to send birthday wishes only to his peers, like Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko or prominent arts and political figures, read out the request from a blue folder where he kept a few messages that he had personally chosen.

“Dear Tatyana Nikolayevna! With all of my heart, I congratulate you on your 55th birthday and I wish you success,” he said with a smile, drawing applause that prompted him to add, “And everyone who gathered in this audience is joining my congratulations.”

During the record-length show, Putin mixed long discussions of the economy and social benefits with other light-hearted comments, including a promise to provide a computer for every student in a school and the rejection of a proposal to become a “citizen of planet Earth.”

In one minor setback, Putin’s remarkable memory for names and figures failed him when he mistakenly identified one of the owners of struggling automaker AvtoVAZ, to which he devoted a large segment of the show.

He noted that France’s Renault holds a blocking stake in AvtoVAZ, as does state corporation Russian Technologies. Then, speaking hesitantly, Putin said the third 25 percent stake belonged to investment bank Renaissance Capital. In fact, it belongs to its rival, Troika Dialog.

Spokespeople for both banks declined comment on the mistake.

The show lasted four hours and one minute and featured questions from stiff-looking workers at plants that Putin has visited this year, including the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower station. He visited the giant dam in Khakasia after 75 people were killed in an accident in August.

Whenever a television presenter asked for questions, just one or two hands would rise among the assembled workers, and then someone would ask a question — usually starting with lavish praise for the prime minister’s efforts to help his or her company. Otherwise, people stood virtually motionless, shoulder to shoulder in a tight crowd, despite the mostly spacious premises of their plants.

A number of the people who asked questions via video link had previously met Putin during his visits. The audience in Gostiny Dvor, where Putin took questions, was filled with employees of Russia’s “main industries” and university students, according to television anchors.

Putin said he stayed up late the previous night to see questions streaming in via the Internet and text messages. Questions continued to pour in during the show, some of them appearing on the ticker line in the audience, asking him casual things such as what Pokemon character he preferred or pleading for help becoming a singer.

Putin did promise assistance in one case.

“Our school has three computers. Could you allocate us some money?” ninth-grader Tatyana Kapnitskaya asked in a written question.

Putin responded that he would act as a good magician from popular Oriental tales for children.

“As long as you reached me, I consider it my duty to respond to your request,” he said.

Putin joked in response to a question about why he looked happier with tigers and leopards than in the company of his ministers.

“The more I know people, the more I like dogs,” he said, before quickly adding that, in fact, he did not think badly about his ministers or friends. “I simply like animals.”

Putin said he thought of every day as his happiest. “The fact that we live is already happiness given to us by the Almighty,” he said.

There was also a display of modesty by Putin, whom Forbes recently ranked as the world’s third-most powerful person. Fielding a question about why great people experience depression and how Putin fights the disease, he said he did not consider himself great and therefore had no depression.

In one of the more colorfully delivered questions from a factory floor, an AvtoVAZ worker responded to an earlier question about why the state was sinking so much money into a bad carmaker. Many Russians ridicule the company’s Lada brand, saying the cars are notoriously poor quality.

“We actually make beautiful cars,” the worker said. “It’s a maneuverable and practical car.” She contradicted herself a moment later, adding, “Yes, in fact, the quality leaves much to be desired, but we need to buy better parts and update our models for it to be better.”

Putin also reacted to a recent drunk driving accident in Switzerland that left an elderly German man badly injured and led to charges against a young Russian who had been behind the wheel of an expensive Lamborghini.

The case shows that Russia has a problem of nouveau riches boasting their wealth, Putin said, likening them to Soviet people who wore golden teeth crowns as a sign of affluence.

“These Lamborghinis and other expensive knickknacks are those golden teeth that I mentioned,” he said. “These people that show off and make a parade of their wealth while millions of Russians live rather modest lives are no different.”

Closer to the end, Putin began answering questions from his blue folder, appearing to have selected most of them for fun. One of them was, “Do you skip stupid questions?”

“I want to ask the author of this: Which category of questions does he think his question belongs in?” Putin replied.

Ending the show, he quoted from another message, “If you want to enter eternity as a citizen of planet Earth, call this contact number.”

This gave Putin a chance to conclude the event on a patriotic tone, just like he did last year, when he proclaimed his love for Russia.

This time he said, “I am proud of being a citizen of the Russian Federation. It is quite enough. Thank you very much for the offer.”

2 responses to “The Kremlin’s neo-Soviet Dog and Pony Show

  1. @Putin joked in response to a question about why he looked happier with tigers and leopards than in the company of his ministers.

    His pal (the Hero of Russia and newly-delcared Major General) is sure happy in the company of tigers.

    GUDERMES, RUSSIA — ‘I’m going to make them scream.”

    The president of Chechnya looks out at the menagerie of birds, floating on the murky man-made lake in his backyard: black swans, pelicans and ducks. Ostriches roam the opposite bank. Deep grunts of laughter shake his thick chest, jolting his barrel arms. Then Ramzan Kadyrov stops laughing. “Bring me the tiger!” he barks to his camouflage-clad servants. “Bring me bread!”

    Two former guerrilla fighters wrestle a chained tiger down the muddy slope. The tiger rears up on its hind legs, fangs bared, and swats at the guards with splayed paws. They yell and beat the tiger about the head until the animal is low to the ground. Meanwhile, Kadyrov is tossing chunks of bread into the water for his fancy birds, imported here from all corners of the Earth. He hopes to draw them close enough to shore to get scared by the tiger. He still wants to hear them scream.

    • Inside the complex, past a horseracing track and an artificial pond, two gold-colored lion statues guard the entrance to the residential compound. Inside, real lions prowl in cages, part of Kadyrov’s extensive zoo of rare animals and birds. I can’t help fixating on the rumor that the compound also houses a prison in which Kadyrov has tortured and killed with his own hands.

      Out past the hulking stone house and fragrant rose garden, Kadyrov leads visitors from cage to cage in his private zoo, showing off the lions, leopards and pumas. He reaches inside to pet and tousle them, to pull them closer and slam them against the bars. He tugs hard on the lion’s mane. When the beasts growl at him, he growls right back, baring his teeth and mirroring their mugs.

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