When Russian leader Vladimir Putin climbed into the martial arts ring in the Olimpiysky Palace in downtown Moscow recently to congratulate a Russian wrestler who had quite convincingly beaten his American opponent, he was greeted by an unfamiliar sound. The crowd, which, given the high ticket price, consisted mostly of wealthy and middle-class Russians, booed, with some shouting, “Go away!”
The prime minister’s press service later hurried to explain that it was a misunderstanding and that the audience last week was booing not Putin but American fighter Jeff Monson, who was being led away from the hall at the same time. “The booing was obviously aimed at Monson,” said Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman. “It is absurd to speak about some message sent to Putin!”
In October, President Dmitry Medvedev, who is leading Putin’s United Russia party into parliamentary elections Sunday, suffered a similar public relations scramble after a visit to the Journalism Department at Moscow State University.
When his security detail prevented many students from meeting with the president, department members said they organized a subbotnik, the Soviet-era term for a (compulsory) volunteer day, during which they thoroughly washed the auditorium to eradicate the traces of Medvedev’s visit.
Afterward, the presidential press service took pains to say that Medvedev had just rented an auditorium from the university to meet with young people, and not with the students themselves.