Please Mr Putin: Russian leader plays agony aunt over dog

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Russian President Vladimir Putin at phone-in, 16 Apr 15Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Vladimir Putin, animal lover

At a marathon televised phone-in, Russian President Vladimir Putin talked at length about the war in Ukraine, sanctions against Iran, relations with the West, and his country's beleaguered economy.

But there was one question that underlined Mr Putin's standing on the world stage, and called upon his well-honed strategic thinking, more than any other. It was about a dog.

It was a classic dilemma: a woman called in to say her friend wanted a dog. Her friend's husband, Boris, a military man, did not.

Could the president of Russia order Boris to satisfy his wife's wish?

Mr Putin's response was as deft an application of soft power as you could hope to see on the world stage.

First, a diversion: Perhaps Boris could buy his wife a fur coat instead, he said.

Then, a concession: No, he could not order a man to take a dog into his home, he said. Not even the president of Russia, who goes horse riding bare-chested, could give such an order.

Finally, some persuasion: "Boris, please, allow your wife to buy a dog. It will strengthen your family."

And with that, he moved on to some smaller and more inconsequential affair of state.

Mr Putin's experience of geo-political negotiating was called upon one other time in the course of the four-hour telethon, when a young man reportedly asked the president to persuade his girlfriend to marry him.

Mr Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, helped bring an end to the Cold War. Could Mr Putin leave his own mark, and solve a case of cold feet?

We don't know what his response to that was, and we may never know whether his gentle entreaties softened Boris's heart.

But one thing we can say for certain: Should his political career ever come to an end, he could have a promising career ahead of him as Russia's most powerful agony aunt.