Saturday, December 11, 2010

Russia's Got Talent

Putin is back. Not that he was ever gone... but he's posing for cameras and targeting global headlines, again. There were no special sports or martial arts moves involved, no black gear or bikes, and not even yellow cars...

This time, it's music. Apparently, the great Prime Minister of all Russians has been working on his vocal and piano, as well as his English language skills. (In his recent interview with Larry King he mentioned learning English songs with his English-language tutor...!)

Putin played "From Where the Motherland Begins". Photo courtesy of the Online Portal of the Government of Russian Federation.

He got on stage during a charity concert to support the fight against children's oncological and ophthalmological diseases in Russia. He played the Soviet song "From Where the Motherland Begins" - already famously a part of his repertoire - and later even joined the jazz band to sing Armstrong's "Blueberry Hill." The Prime Minister performed the latter to "a standing ovation". The concert, which took place in St. Petersburg's Ice Palace, was also attended by several international celebrities, Sharon Stone, Monica Bellucci, and Gerard Depardieu among others.

Certainly, the desire to raise funds for a great cause is applaudable. Yet, this obvious PR event was also very much an attempt at public diplomacy - personality-based public diplomacy. RussiaToday TV, too, did not miss the opportunity to highlight yet another one of Putin's great talents, of course.

And here is most of the performance itself. Enjoy!

Aw. Isn't he cute?

Some of the international coverage is noteworthy, too. The framing and phrasing is priceless.

Daily Mail Online:
Putin, described as ‘alpha-dog’ in diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, is reported to have sung patriotic songs to a group of Russian agents after they were expelled from America in July. But before Friday’s show in St Petersburg, his musical prowess had not been noted.
At the show, Putin also tried to play a Soviet-era song called From Where The Motherland Begins but hit a wrong key and stopped.

Russia's Vladimir Putin, showing his passion for music extends from favourites of spies and cosmonauts to Armstrong, played the grand piano for a room full of filmstars in a concert lasting into the wee hours of Saturday.
He then took the microphone and roused the audience from their seats with Louis Armstrong's "Blueberry Hill" sung in broken English with some piano accompaniment by the jazz band.

And certainly, can't help but point out a recent post in Foreign Policy's Passport, featuring hilarious commentary along with Kremlin-released pictures from an evening Putin and Medvedev spent together in Sochi last week: "Chillaxin' in Sochi with Vova and Dima."

Celeb-style public diplomacy is obviously better than no public diplomacy. The problem, however, is with the reception, and the complete ignorance of the actual reactions and stereotype-perpetuation such attempts are having abroad, especially in the West. Unless, of course, that's the intent to begin with, in which case I cannot but express pity for this "strategy."

UPDATE [12.12.2010]: Just came across this other video from Euronews. Gives a better idea about the audience and other participants, I think...

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