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June 6, 2005
Portrrait Of A Cold, Cruel Man

The Guardian (UK) reports on an interview given by Ludmila Putina that her husband, Vladimir Putin, must have wished he'd never allowed after its publication. Translated from the original Russian version that appeared in the state-owned Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Putina paints a portrait of the Russian strong man as a cold, dominating husband with a cruel sense of humor and little capacity for compassion or compromise:

In September 2002, the Kremlin's first lady laid out his domestic constitution in a new authorised biography of her husband. She said he had two golden rules about women: "A woman must do everything in the home" and "You should not praise a woman otherwise you will spoil her."

The latter rule has apparently forced her to give up one of the key domestic tasks of a Russian women, she added. "He never praises me and that has totally put me off cooking. He is extremely difficult to cook for and will refuse to eat a dish if he does not like the slightest thing in it." She added: "He has put me to the test throughout our life together. I constantly feel that he is watching me and checking that I make the right decisions." The president has reportedly even banned Ludmila from having a credit card, her husband thinking this will give way to "western temptations".

The presidential sense of humour, she claims, is also trying. Putin is renowned for his black jokes - reportedly once telling a boy laid up in hospital with a broken leg after being hit by a car: "That'll teach you to break traffic regulations." She said: "I find it hard to understand dark humour, irony. I like kind, simple humour. I can't say we always have that sort of humour in the family."

Russia has a strong streak of chauvinism in its culture regarding men and women, which explains why these statements might be considered popular for the Gazeta's audience. The previous two rulers, Yeltsin and Gorbachev, had wives considered by Russians to be too assertive for their tastes, especially Raisa Gorbachev. Putin wants to assure people that Ludmila does not secretly run the country, a fear that goes back to the last Tsar, Nicholas II, whose wife Alexandria allowed the mad monk Rasputin to take de facto control while Nicholas went to the front in World War I to take command of the army. For that reason, Ludmila might be playing up the meme just a bit in the interview.

However, given the way that Putin has ruled the country, her revelations appear to be in character for the Russian autocrat. He does not suffer Ludmila's advice on his work or political issues easily, and never acknowledges any influence she may have had on his decisions. Her description leaves readers with an impression of a cold, closed-off man convinced of his own superiority in politics and strategy who has left his wife to handle the home and children completely by herself.

While this may have appeal to the majority of Russians, it also raises some questions about the amount of compromise and collaboration of which Putin is capable. Western leaders attempting to convince this man to adopt a new, more democratic course or to open Russian society to allow freer, less restrictive social policies may be wasting their time. Perhaps, in the end, that message doesn't displease Vladimir, either.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 6, 2005 5:38 AM

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