Russian President Vladimir Putin has regularly used his annual news conference to deploy colorful metaphors and one-liners while projecting an image of wry self-assurance.
But this tack took a wrong turn at this year’s event on December 18 after Putin teased a journalist for his slurred speech, joking that the man was drunk.
As it turns out, reporter Vladimir Mamatov’s sluggish delivery of his question to the Russian leader was the result of two strokes he survived.
“He suffered two strokes and one concussion. His speech is somewhat impaired,” Irina Aleksandrova, director of the Kirov newspaper “Reporter,” was quoted by the radio station Russkaya Sluzhba Novostei as saying.
Mamatov took the microphone midway through the press conference to lament the difficulties that Kirov producers of kvas, a traditional Russian fermented beverage with a negligible alcohol content, face in getting their products on the shelves of major supermarkets.
“It appears you’ve already been nipping at the kvas,” Putin quipped, eliciting laughter among the hundreds of journalists gathered in the crowed.
Putin continued to needle Mamatov after the journalist noted that kvas made by a Kirov-region company is “very good.”
“I can see that,” Putin said, sparking another round of chuckles from the crowd.
Putin went on to ironically inquire whether the kvas in question is indeed alcohol-free.
Putin moved the exchange onto more serious ground, touting kvas as a fine traditional Russian alternative to Western-produced beverages like Coca-Cola, and he promised to try to help Kirov kvas-makers find their place on the broader Russian market.
Several journalists in the crowd and Russian news agencies initially appeared to believe Mamatov was drunk as well, including Russia’s state-owned international news network RT.
Mamatov appeared to take Putin’s teasing in stride, telling the Kremlin-friendly tabloid Lifenews.ru that he was “ready for the president’s jibes.”
“Furthermore, I knew that the president would react like that to my question and think that I’m tipsy,” Mamatov said. “I have a very positive opinion of the president.”
-- Carl Schreck