Russia: Why is Putin always late?

As seen by...
...BBC Monitoring's Stephen Ennis

  • Published
When the Pope met Putin

Vladimir Putin's legendary lateness is back in the spotlight after he kept Pope Francis waiting during a recent visit to the Vatican. What lies behind his chronic tardiness?

The Russian president was 50 minutes late to meet the Pope on Monday. And papal courtiers were left "shivering" outside as they waited to welcome the Russian president, who was held up by women protesting outside his hotel in support of punk band Pussy Riot, says independent daily Moskovskiy Komsomolets.

The Pope and the Italian press appear to have taken it in their stride. Given his reputation, they probably expected nothing else.

Not so the South Korean media after he kept President Park Geun-hye waiting for 30 minutes during a visit to Seoul earlier in November - particularly as the already late Putin stopped en route to chat with martial arts enthusiasts.

"Mr Putin, be on time next time," fumed a Korea Times headline.

Image caption,
Pussy Riot supporters protested during Putin's visit to Rome

But the liberal Russian website points out the Koreans need not be upset. Being only half an hour late is a "mark of the deepest respect" from Putin.

For the Russian leader has a long catalogue of late arrivals to his name:

  • 14 minutes overdue for Queen Elizabeth II in 2003
  • 40 minutes late for German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2012
  • three hours overdue for talks on Syria with US Secretary of State John Kerry
  • and he kept parents of children killed in an air crash waiting for two hours at a Bashkortostan cemetery in 2002.

It's often a by-product of his meticulousness, an anonymous source close to Putin tells Moskovskiy Komsomolets's chief political columnist Mikhail Rostovskiy: "Before important meetings he often double-checks sources of information, delves into things, as a result he gets behind schedule."

Image caption,
Arriving for the G20 "family photo"

Sometimes it bears the hallmarks of a calculated snub. In 2012, Putin was running late for gas talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Crimea. But he stopped for a chat with a biker friend, and eventually arrived nearly four hours late.

Political commentator Dmitriy Abramov says Putin's "affected lateness" is "born of a desire to demonstrate that he occupies a 'tsar's place' in world politics, as in the heyday of the Russian empire".

His estranged wife Lyudmila says he regularly kept her waiting when they were dating. Putin recollects of his school days: "I did not have time to dress and flew like a bullet to school without my coat."

As Rostovskiy notes, lateness is now Putin's "calling card" and he's unlikely to change. "In all probability he will be late for his own funeral," says opposition blogger Andrey Malgin.

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