Saturday, October 21, 2006

News Briefs

From RFE/RL Newsline:

After initially declining to comment on remarks President Vladimir Putin reportedly made on October 18 to visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which Putin praised the sexual prowess of Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Kremlin press spokesman Dmitry Paskov admitted to the BBC on October 20 that Putin made such comments. The daily “Kommersant” on October 19 reported of the Putin-Olmert meeting that “after the press was ushered out, and [Putin] apparently thought the microphones had been turned off,” he told Olmert: “Say hi to your president. He turned out to be quite a powerful guy! Raped 10 women! We’re all surprised. We all envy him!” (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” October 19, 2006). The “International Herald Tribune” quoted Paskov as saying the same day (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” October 19, 2006) that he was not present when the remarks were reportedly made about Katsav, who may face criminal charges for rape and sexual harassment of several women over a longer period of time. However, when pressed by the BBC in an October 20 interview, Paskov at first argued that “Russian is a very complicated language. Sometimes it is very sensitive from the point of view of phrasing.” He sought to question whether the BBC’s translation of “rape” was accurate but finally admitted that “these words were pronounced” by the president. The spokesman then said that “these remarks are not to be commented on” because they were “personal remarks for his counterpart and not for journalists’ ears.” He added that Putin “in no way welcomes rape.” PM

It is not clear how President Putin’s remarks will impact on his role at the EU-Russia summit on October 20 in Lahti, Finland, international media reported. It will be hosted by a woman, namely Finnish President Tarja Halonen, and Putin’s most important opposite number will be another woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Kommersant” noted on October 19 that Putin displays little sense of humor in public except when others are the butt of it. Symbols and verbal imagery reflecting power and virility have been part of the trappings of the Putin regime, as they were in Soviet times. After Putin called earlier in 2006 for increasing the birthrate, critical journalist Vladimir Rakhmankov dubbed the president “Russia’s phallic symbol.” Rakhmankov is now on trial for “insulting a representative of the state” (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” May 24, June 1, and September 22, 2006). PM
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