Not to be outdone by past Russian leaders' comic turns (raucous shoe-beatin' Khrushchev, goofy wine stain-headed Gorbachev), former KGB head Vladimir Putin recently poked light-hearted fun at the sitting Israeli president's indictment on rape and sexual assault charges. If you still believe the Associated Press, then here it is:
MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin made joking references to the sexual assault accusations against Israeli President Moshe Katsav during a meeting with the visiting Israeli prime minister in remarks that shocked longtime Kremlin-watchers.
A Kremlin spokesman said Friday that Putin's meaning had been lost in translation from Russian to English.
As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with the Russian leader in an ornate reception room in the Kremlin on Wednesday, reporters overheard Putin tell him: "Say hello to your president. He really surprised us."
The microphones were then cut off, but a member of the Israeli delegation told The Associated Press that Putin went on to say of Katsav: "I met him. He didn't look like a guy who could be with 10 women."
The Israeli ambassador quipped, "It seems like he's envious of him," and Olmert told his host: "I wouldn't envy him," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press.
Russia's Kommersant daily conveyed a more graphic version of the conversation, quoting Putin as saying: "He turns out to be a really powerful guy! He raped 10 women!" It also quoted Putin himself as saying "We all envy him."
Earlier this week, Israeli police recommended that Katsav be charged with rape, aggravated sexual assault and misconduct after women who once worked for him filed complaints. The 60-year-old has denied any wrongdoing but the scandal has rocked Israel and sparked calls for his resignation from the largely ceremonial post.
In its story on the Putin-Katsav meeting, Kommersant commented incredulously: "This was one of those moments when you just can't believe your ears."
Putin has made coarse references before in some of his public remarks.
Early on in his presidency, Putin called for "wiping out Chechen rebels in the outhouse."
He once suggested that a French reporter who had posed an uncomfortable question about abuses against civilians in Chechnya should travel to Russia for a circumcision. "I would recommend that he who does the surgery does it so you'll have nothing growing back, afterward," Putin said.
In June, foreign news executives were taken aback when Putin hit back at a question about whether Russia would favor sanctions against Iran if it failed to stop enriching uranium.
"What if my grandmother had certain sexual attributes?" he snapped, dismissing the question as merely rhetorical. "Then she would be my grandfather."
Told of Putin's statements and asked by CM to comment thereon, Putin's grandmother, Mrs. Olga Putin, stated, "Tell shiftless little bastard if I were the grandfather, I not the one to get nehzc cut in some Chechnyan outhouse. Then we see who laughs now that would not then laugh." A Kremlin spokesman said Mrs. Olga's statements had been lost in translation from broken English to Russian.