The Western press has been gleefully reporting that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was booed when he addressed the crowd after Russian Fyodor Emelianenko beat American fighter Jeff Monson.
US paper the Washington Post called it a “rare show of public disapproval”, while British paper the Daily Mail explained the event as an “unprecedented indignity for tough guy PM”. And pretty much every report I’ve read so far has quoted opposition blogger Alexei Navalny as calling the event “the end of an era.”
But, despite there being video of the event, others are claiming that it wasn’t actually Putin being booed. The most sensible explanation as to why it wasn’t Putin being booed comes from Mikhail Moskalyov, the head of the Olympic Stadium, who thinks that the crowd were actually booing Jeff Monson the defeated American fighter. Given how partisan Russian audiences can be, and the fact that the booing does seem to stop as Ronson is lead away, it seems like a fairly logical argument. More so than Nashi spokeswoman Kristina Potupchik, who explained on her blog that what we actually heard was the screaming roar of 22,000 bursting bladders.
I’ve watched the video a few times now – and I still can’t figure out whether the crowd booed Putin, or whether they were booing someone or something else. Here’s the video for your viewing pleasure – who do you think they’re booing?
Regardless of who is actually jeering at who, two other things about this story stand out to me.
First, the event was carried live on Russian TV. Although later news reports were heavily edited to disguise the booing, it’s sparked public debate in Russia, and that’s never a bad thing.
Second, whatever you think of Putin, his lack of reaction was truly impressive. If I thought for a moment that 20,000 people were booing me, I’d be a gibbering wreck. But Putin – he hardly missed a beat.