The upcoming issue of Newsweek features an epic profile of the Russian president. “Behind the Scenes in Putin’s Court: The Private Habits of a Latter-Day Dictator” gives a lengthy depiction of what seems like a lonely, monotonous, and very aristocratic routine.
Putin’s day starts with a breakfast of cottage cheese, quail eggs and fresh food “dispatched regularly from the farmland estates of the Patriarch Kirill,” Russia’s $30,000-time piece wearing, Pussy Riot Hell-condemning Pope of sorts. Then, there’s hours of swimming, working out while catching up on [his news media's take on] current events and endless, mostly “meaningless meetings.” On the weekends, it’s ice hockey and English lessons. At night, rumored visits from “models, photographers, or gymnasts.” But on special occasions, such as visits abroad, there’s much activity, plans, “a pilot group” that arrives “a month before the President to the capital in question.”
The luxury hotel his administration will occupy is inspected. The FSB and the SVR cooperate in this delicate matter. How secure is that room? How bio-contaminable is this bathroom?
The court has established itself on foreign soil a week before he arrives. The hotel becomes the Kremlin. They have booked and sealed 200 rooms. There is a special lift uniquely prepared for the presidential use. Diplomats cluck and confer with pot-bellied FSO inspectors and clammy-handed protocol officers.
His room is sealed: no one is allowed access to it. This is the work of the special security team. The hotel sheets and toiletries are removed and replaced. Their places filled with wash stuffs and fresh fruit under special Kremlin anti-contamination seals.
Meanwhile everything he will need arrives by the planeload: Russian cooks, Russian cleaners, Russian waiters. Russian lorries bleep and dock with two tons of Russian food. He will sleep on this soil one night. Meanwhile, teams of diplomats engage in multi-session food negotiations with the host.
What’s more, Putin is foregoing one of Mother Rus’s most beloved customs — receiving and giving “bread and salt” — because, who knows what’s in that salt?
The President cannot be served milk products, though that is contradicted by orders of Russian security services. The President cannot be offered food by the host – including the head of state or government. The embassy finds itself negotiating a tough position in countries with a rich culinary heritage: the President cannot consume foreign foodstuffs that have not been cleared by the Kremlin.
There is uncertainty here amongst the negotiators. Perhaps the President is secretly lactose intolerant? More likely, he is merely paranoid about poisoning. Russian materials are shipped in advance for the Presidential platter, where local cooks will be supervised by the FSB, SVR, FSO and their team of tasters. The President has refused to even touch food at foreign banquets.