MOSCOW, Russia — When crowds of protesters first flooded the streets of Moscow in December 2011 chanting “Putin is a thief!” they probably had in mind rigged elections, budgetary funds and natural resources, to name a few concerns.
Certainly not a Super Bowl ring.
But billionaire and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is no ordinary, disenfranchised middle-class protester. So when he reportedly claimed last Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin swiped one of his Super Bowl rings during a meeting in St. Petersburg in 2005, the world — and the Kremlin — quickly took notice.
“I put my hand out and he put [the ring] in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out,” the New York Post reported Kraft as telling an audience at a New York City gala.
Although it was unclear from Kraft’s comments whether he intended to accuse Putin of outright theft, he did seem to expect the ring back.
Either way, the ring, which commemorates the Patriots’ close 24-21 win that year against the Philadelphia Eagles, now sits in the Kremlin library.
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, long used to fielding questions about Putin ranging from the embarrassing to the absurd, spent the better part of his past two days batting down the rumor, claiming Kraft’s $25,000 ring was in fact a gift.
“I was standing 20 centimeters away from [Kraft] and Mr. Putin and saw and heard how Mr. Kraft gave this ring as a gift,” he told CNN on Monday.
Putin has even offered to buy Kraft a new ring as a replacement, according to Peskov. The spokesman also gently suggested Kraft should see a shrink.
“All that talk about some kind of pressure that was exerted on [Kraft] should be the subject of a detailed talk with psychoanalysts, I think,” he said Sunday in Northern Ireland ahead of a G8 summit.
Call it what you will — lost in translation, a cultural misunderstanding, or just another one of those awkward moments — but one thing is for certain: Kraft seems to know how to mend geopolitical fences.
Back in 2005, he reportedly took White House advice to release a statement claiming the ring was indeed a gift.
Now, apparently upon noticing the hullabaloo his statement on Thursday caused, Kraft rushed to correct himself.
"It's a humorous, anecdotal story that Robert re-tells for laughs,” Stacey James, Kraft’s spokesman, told NFL.com on Sunday. “He loves that his ring is at the Kremlin and, as he stated back in 2005, he continues to have great respect for Russia and the leadership of President Putin."
"In particular, he credits President Putin for modernizing the Russian economy," she added.
Not exactly accurate for a country consistently admonished for its heavy dependence on oil, but all that’s awkward ends awkwardly.