Friday 23 February 2018

Mary Dejevsky: If Putin can be booed in public, then the gloves are off and anything is possible

EXACTLY what happened at the Olympic sports arena in Moscow last Sunday night? Was the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, booed and whistled when he took the microphone to congratulate the Russian fighter on his victory? Or was the audience, a bit the worse for wear, booing the American loser off the stage? The question is still preoccupying Russia's febrile internet chatrooms.

Alexei Navalny, the blogger who posted the clip on YouTube, is a prominent critic of the government, who clearly has an interest in spinning it one way. The Kremlin obviously has an interest in spinning it the other way. Russians will believe what they believe, as you will if you see the clip. Having watched it several times, I am in little doubt that Putin's speech triggered the hostility. His unexpected absence from the martial arts tournament the next day might also support that view.

Yet, in truth, it hardly matters why a lusty bunch of fans barracked after Putin climbed into the ring and took the microphone. What matters is what a preponderance of Russians believe – and what they believe is that it is at least possible that the country's Prime Minister and former President – a leader who has enjoyed sky-high poll ratings for the best part of 12 years – was booed in public. That, over and above any reality, marks a watershed in Russian politics.

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