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Was Putin Booed On Stage?

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin might have got a nasty shock on November 20 as he climbed into the ring in front of 22,000 fans at a Moscow stadium to congratulate Russian martial-arts guru Fedor Emelianenko for an emphatic win over America’s Jeff Monson.
As he took the microphone to heap praise on national hero Emelianenko, Putin looked set to chalk up political points in one of his choreographed feats of manliness with under four months till his anticipated return to the Kremlin.
But instead of a patriotic roar from the heaving crowd, the 59-year-old premier and judo aficionado was assailed with the deafening shrill of whistles and boos.
Opposition blogger and anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny interpreted the cries as an unambiguous sign of public disapproval, calling it the “end of an era.”
In a much more significant defeat for Putin’s micromanaged feats of manliness -- that have included diving to the bottom of the ocean and tranquilizing a tiger -- the catcalls were broadcasted on federal television and watched by millions.
In the live broadcast, the whistling clearly abates when Putin invites the crowd to cheer for Emelianenko, but then restarts when Putin begins talking again.
What appears to be a show of unprecedented public disapproval for Russia’s most powerful man follows in the steps of a recent fall in Putin’s once stratospheric approval ratings.
Last year they almost touched 80 percent, but they have since slid to 66 percent and by last month to 61 percent -- an appreciable tumble, but still making Putin more popular than any other Russian politician.
Putin is not taking part in the State Duma elections after he announced that he will run for the presidential election slated for March 4.
An edited version of Putin’s congratulatory speech has since been aired on federal television with the whistles and boos omitted.
Meanwhile, Putin’s allies have leapt to his defense, saying the whistles were not directed at Putin.
Kremlin-linked youth group Nashi spokeswoman Kristina Potupchik suggested that the whistling may have come from angry people in the crowds trying to get to the toilet.
Officials have claimed that the booing was directed at Monson, the American martial-arts fighter who was effectively carried bleeding from the ring.
In a rebuttal of this argument, opposition blogger Oleg Kozyrev tweeted that "people don't whistle badly battered opponents. They whistle politicians they are highly sick of."
Navalny simply marveled sarcastically at Putin’s composure throughout, tweeting: “When the ‘boos’ resounded, not a single muscle moved in Putin’s face. It’s the Botox.”
-- Tom Balmforth

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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