Vladimir Putin: Lord of the (Super Bowl) Rings

Did Vladimir Putin steal New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft's Super Bowl ring when they met in 2005? Many Russian bloggers are asking that very question, after Kraft claimed in a June 14, 2013, New York Post interview that he had in fact not given the ring as a gift. Kraft's announcement (which the Patriots’ spokesperson later called a joke) contradicts his own public statement from 2005, immediately following his meeting with Putin, when he said he'd gifted the $25,000 ring to Russia's president “as a symbol” of “respect and admiration.” (Even then in 2005, however, there were media reports [ru] that Kraft had not intended to give Putin the ring.)

Hamburglar Putin, with the Stanley Cup & Super Bowl ring. This image was created by Kevin Rothrock, using "Halloween's Lost Camera 06" by Andy Pixel, 31 October 2009, CC 2.0.

Hamburglar Putin, with the Stanley Cup and Super Bowl ring. This image was created by Kevin Rothrock, using “Halloween's Lost Camera 06″ by Andy Pixel, 31 October 2009, CC 2.0.

Whatever Kraft's true intentions eight years ago, Putin's Press Secretary, Dmitri Peskov, found himself faced yesterday, June 16, with awkward questions about whether or not Putin indeed robbed an American billionaire football-team-owner of his championship ring. Peskov's response [ru] would attract a wave of RuNet mockery:

Если этот джентльмен испытывает действительно такую мучительную боль от утраты произошедшего, кажется, в 2005 году, в связи с актом доверия, то президент будет готов отправить ему какое-нибудь другое кольцо, которое сможет купить за свои деньги.

If this gentleman [Kraft] is experiencing such agony from this loss that apparently occurred in 2005, then the President is prepared as an act of good faith to send him back some other kind of ring, that he will be able to buy with his own money.

Andrei Illarionov, one of Putin's former economic advisors and currently a senior fellow at the conservative Washington think tank, the Cato Institute, dissected Peskov's comments on his blog [ru], arguing that they incriminate Putin in the theft of the ring. Illarionov's logic runs: if the Super Bowl ring is currently stored in the Kremlin's official library, then it is legally regarded as a gift to Russia's head of state, and thus is government property. If Peskov is proposing to refund Kraft the value of the ring, that money should therefore be paid out of the federal budget. That Peskov conveyed Putin's private ability to purchase a replacement ring, however, suggests that the artifact in reality has reverted to Putin's private property. Illarionov concludes his post with the following list of suspicions:

Почему же Песков вынужден говорить о покупке нового кольца?
Потому ли, что оригинальный перстень невозможно вернуть?
А почему невозможно?
Потому что перстня с бриллиантами в президентской библиотеке больше нет?
А был ли он там?
Куда же он делся?
И где этот перстень сейчас?
И почему нельзя просто вернуть злополучный перстень его хозяину?

But why did Peskov need to talk about buying a new ring?
Because the original ring is impossible to return?
But why is that impossible?
Because the diamond-studded ring is no longer in the Presidential Library?
Was it ever there?
Where did it disappear to?
And where is this ring now?
And why is it impossible just to return this unfortunate ring to its owner?

In another amusing commentary [ru] on this story, the blog “Cult Magazine” tried to convey to Russians the significance of Kraft's Super Bowl ring, bearing in mind that the NFL is largely a foreign game to non-Americans. Hockey, on the other hand, enjoys wide popularity in Russia, and the NHL's championship trophy, the Stanley Cup, is for most Russians a more familiar award. While the better parallel to the Stanley Cup in NFL football is the Vince Lombardi Trophy (also a large, difficult-to-steal object), Cult Magazine used the inaccurate comparison to maximum comedic effect:

Еще раз – это награда Национальной Футбольной Лиги, которая вручается победителям Чемпионата Мира по американскому футболу, и награда очень престижная. Представьте, человек решил похвастаться кубком Стенли, а президент вдруг решил, что это подарок и ушёл с ним.

Once again, this is the award in the National Football League given to the winners of the World Championship in American football, and the award is very prestigious. Imagine if someone decided to brag about winning the Stanley Cup, and the President suddenly decided that it was a present for him, and he took off with it.

While this story will undoubtedly fade from the headlines in a matter of weeks (if not days), the incident marks what seems to be one of countless recent episodes in the Kremlin's ailing public image worldwide.

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