In Newsweek, Ben Judah writes of the joyless world of Vladimir Putin. He wakes late and eats shortly after noon, beginning with “the simplest of breakfasts” – cottage cheese (always), an omelette or porridge, sometimes quails’ eggs, lots of fresh fruit, a glass of fruit juice, coffee.
Then he swims for two hours, “a vigorous front crawl”, wearing goggles. It is here, in his pool, say aides, that he does much of his thinking. Various courtiers, meanwhile, have arrived to see him: they “joke and idle and cross their legs in the lacquered waiting rooms”.
Putin, who likes to spend time in the gym (preferring weights to exercise bikes), is happy to keep them waiting – three or four hours is standard. After the gym he often reads, usually history books on, say, Ivan the Terrible, or Peter the Great, though the odd novel too: in 2006 he is thought to have read Sankya, by Zakhar Prilepin, a thriller in which working-class men beat up Chechens.
He immerses himself in both hot and cold baths and gets dressed – he likes tailored, bespoke suits and conservative ties. Then, as Judah puts it, “power begins”. Sitting at a heavy wooden desk with no screens (Putin rarely uses the internet), he looks at official reports in leather-bound folders before devouring press clippings, foreign as well as domestic.
His aides don’t hide bad news: “the president must know how far these foreigners demonise him”. Sometimes he glances at a video monitor, amused to see the courtiers waiting for an audience “gossip and writhe in boredom or play with their electronic gadgets”.
Finally the meetings begin, one after another, a mostly tedious routine “parcelled up into thousands of units of 15 minutes” and planned months ahead.
He avoids Moscow as much as he can, preferring his residence, the palace at Novo-Ogaryovo, west of the city. It is 24km from the Kremlin, a journey he can do in less than 25 minutes while Moscow is gridlocked. The route is closed and “cleared of all traffic” when he commutes.
His favourite sport is ice hockey, which he often plays (with his cronies and most trusted aides). “He thinks it is graceful and manly and fun.”
There are no stories of extravagance, says Ben Judah, only of loneliness. He has no family life; his father and mother are dead; he is divorced from his wife, who suffered from nervous disorders; his two daughters live abroad. There are “rumours of models, photographers or gymnasts who come to him at night”, but they are just rumours.
He likes animals, especially a black Labrador that is not afraid of him, and enjoys flying over the Russian tundra in a helicopter looking for tigers and bears. Few people know him well; fewer make jokes in his presence.
Most of the time he “looks emotionless, as if nothing really touches him”, according to a former interpreter. One courtier, however, remembers him being asked who were the greatest Russian traitors. He named Nicholas II and Mikhail Gorbachev. They were “weaklings”, he said, who “threw” Russia’s power “on the floor”.
Tabloid money: Red Ed’s £35m war chest
• “Labour is busy accumulating a huge war-chest to fight next year’s general election,” says Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail. Although the party remains “in the pocket of the trade unions”, big cheques are being written out to Labour by business tycoons.
“Not put off by Red Ed’s numerous anti-business policies, property mogul Sir David Garrard has donated £500,000 and former tax exile Andrew Rosenfeld has given £1m. Of course, this money is dwarfed by the contributions ploughed into the party last year by the unions, but it means Labour has £35m to spend, more than the Tories, who were given £25m last year.”
• “When her husband Rupert Sanders was photographed smooching moody actress Kristen Stewart, model Liberty Ross didn’t get mad, she got everything,” says Jane Moore in The Sun. “Details of their divorce settlement shows that as well as £23,000 a month in spousal support for her and their two children, she will keep their £1.2m Hollywood home and two other houses in London.
Liberty will also pocket half of the ongoing earnings on Snow White and the Huntsman, the film he directed and in which Stewart starred. An expensive snog by anyone’s standards. Liberty says she stayed strong by visualising herself as a ‘sort of Maasai warrior’. Albeit one who lives in several mansions rather than a mud hut.”
• “David Cameron and his prime ministerial entourage dined at Pizza Express during a visit to Salford Quays, near Manchester,” says Ephraim Hardcastle in the Daily Mail. “Previously he has taken his refined wife, Samantha, to Pizza Express in Soho.
Does he have shares in the chain?”