Russian President Vladimir Putin is the former head of the feared KGB. He has been blamed for the mafia state that has infested Russia since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. He has presided over the selective punishment of political opponents such as oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the band Pussy Riot and a bunch of protestors labeled rioters for participating in a rally a year ago.
He's cracked down on nongovernmental organizations, forcing them to register as foreign agents even when they are merely trying to make the lives of struggling Russians better. He's backing a ban on gay couples' adoption of Russian children and his allies are supporting a measure that goes homophobically further, banning homosexual "propaganda." And now it appears even more clear that he purloined the Super Bowl ring of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
All of this is disturbing. (Well, all of it except Putin's decision to give Russian citizenship to right-wing wacko actor Gerard Depardieu, who's trying to avoid paying French taxes – that was a gift to the French, who are well rid of him.) But what truly baffling are the details of the announced divorce of Putin and his wife, Lyudmila Putina. Apparently, the couple is parting ways because they just never saw each other.
It makes one want to do some sort of time machine-enabled intervention with Putina: the man's a threat to post-communist democracy in the region and might be a common thief. And you're divorcing because you don't spend enough time together? Lyudmila, seriously -- this is what makes the union fall apart? I would have dumped the guy before the Khodorkovsky trial. Actually, I would have given him his walking papers after the first ridiculous shirtless photo he shared with his countrymen, apparently eager for them to see him as some sort of tough-guy, macho man. OK, he's tough, but not in a good way. A photo of Putin in martial arts garb or posing with his middle-aged muscles flexed is a creepy metaphor. It's not attractive. And the motorcycle-riding and super-sports? It makes the leader of the un-free world look like a pathetic cliché of a man in a middle-aged crisis.
But the ring is the final straw. In 2005, when Kraft was visiting Russia on a business mission, he showed Putin the $25,000 ring. Putin looked it over, and said, according to an interview Kraft recently gave, "I could kill someone with this ring." Then he put it in his pocket and walked off with it, surrounded by his security guards. Kraft said at the time that it was a gift, but this story seemed implausible and diplomatically cleansed. Who would give away something of that much sentimental value? And who would ask for his ring back from a guy who once headed the KGB and made a point of saying he could kill someone with the piece of jewelry?
The whole episode is sort of ridiculous, two grown men fighting over a diamond ring. And it's women who are ridiculed for such silliness on "Real Housewives" franchises or "Bridezilla" episodes? At any rate, the ring (of which Kraft has several, given the irritating ability of the Patriots to win Super Bowls) is on display at the Kremlin. Kraft is gracious to let it stay there. It's Putina's ring that ought to have come off a long time ago.
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