MIDWAY: Putin’s moves

He has been accused of crushing political opponents, bullying the neighbours, and — in the words of one British diplomat appalled by Russia’s treatment of the British Council — of

“punching a librarian”. But Russia’s gladiatorial PM Vladimir Putin also has another way of dispensing with his enemies: he chucks them on a mat. On Oct. 7 — his 56th birthday — Putin presented a judo DVD for budding students of the sport: Let’s Learn Judo with Vladimir Putin.

Putin, a black belt, has already co-authored a book on judo, which he mastered while growing

up in Soviet Leningrad. He has now taken his passion for the martial art a step further, starring in a 75-minute training video filmed over the past 18 months in Moscow and St Petersburg.

The film shows a white-robed Putin performing a series of dashing throws. At one point he can be seen dancing balletically with a practice partner, who lands on the ground with a satisfying thwack. More than this though, Russia’s former president talks enigmatically about the philosophy behind the sport. Addressing the camera, and with oriental music jangling in the background, Putin declares: “In a bout concessions are permissible but only in one case: if it is for victory.” Putin is wearing black; for a moment you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a Russian version of The Matrix.

Putin’s former judo trainer, Anatoli Rakhlin, says his pupil was a gifted student who has popularised the martial art in Russia. “It’s important that our PM is a sportsman and not a drunk,” he adds, before shedding light on Putin’s mystical commentary: “Victory is an integral part of judo. It goes back to when a Japanese master looked at a cherry tree laden with snow. The branches bent — but then flung the snow off. It’s about giving and then winning.”

Putin’s sporting prowess has been a hard act to follow for his presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev, who is known to prefer yoga. In August, however, Medvedev sent Russian tanks rolling into Georgia, ending questions about his macho credentials. In any case, Putin is not short of old judo pals to spar with: his long-time friend and judo partner Vasily Shestakov is now an MP in Russia’s Duma.