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'Putinisms': From the Mouth of a President

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a judo competition in Moscow in December 2007.
Dmitry Astakhov / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a judo competition in Moscow in December 2007.

A sampling of some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's eyebrow-raising comments and actions over the years:

-- In 2000, CNN's Larry King asked Putin what had happened to cause the Kursk nuclear submarine accident, which killed 118 crew members in the Barents Sea. Putin made light of the question, answering, "It sank." During the failed rescue operation, Russia had turned down offers of help from other countries, and Putin was criticized for refusing to cut short a vacation.

-- Meeting reporters in 2003, Putin said jailed Yukos oil company chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky's offer to pay back taxes from the 1990s had come too late. "One must always obey the law," Putin said, "and not only when you're grabbed in a certain place."

-- In 2005, Putin met with American businessmen in Moscow, among them Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots football team, which had recently won the Super Bowl. When Kraft showed Putin his diamond-encrusted championship ring, Putin surprised his guests by trying on the ring, slipping it into his pocket and leaving. Kraft later said he had given the ring to Putin as a gift and token of respect.

-- During a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2006, a Russian journalist overheard Putin talking about Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who had been accused of multiple rapes. "What a mighty man he turns out to be!" Putin said. "He raped 10 women; I'd never have expected that from him. He surprised us all — we all envy him!" The Kremlin later confirmed Putin had made the comments. During a call-in television program, Putin criticized reporters for "eavesdropping" on his conversation with Olmert, saying it was "unseemly."

-- When asked by a journalist in 2006 about Russia's possible support for sanctions against Iran, Putin denied accusations that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons, saying, "If a grandmother had certain reproductive organs, she would be a grandfather."

-- During a summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries in Germany in 2007, Putin attacked the United States and Europe and described himself as the world's only "pure democrat." "After the death of Mahatma Gandhi," he said, "there's no one to talk to." Putin rejected criticism that he has ended democracy and reinstituted authoritarianism in Russia, accusing European countries of "killing demonstrators in the streets."

-- During a news conference in 2008, Putin criticized Western elections observers by quoting a well-known line from a popular television crime drama. "They're trying to teach us something!" he said. "Well, let them teach their wives how to make cabbage soup!"

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Gregory Feifer
Gregory Feifer reports for NPR from Moscow, covering Russia's resurgence under President Vladimir Putin and the country's transition to the post-Putin era. He files from other former Soviet republics and across Russia, where he's observed the effects of the country's vast new oil wealth on an increasingly nationalistic society as well as Moscow's rekindling of a new Cold War-style opposition to the West.