the role of poets in this country has always stretched beyond the realm of literature. A poet here is a visionary, a paragon of moral – and often political – mores. Hence the popular maxim (attributed to Yevgeny Yevtushenko) — поэт в России больше, чем поэт — a poet in Russia is more than a poet. Sometimes he can also be a president, oops, a prime minister.
Vladimir Putin clearly demonstrated his poetic chops last November when meeting in Yalta with his Ukrainian counterpart, Yulia Timoshenko. When asked to comment on a parallel meeting in Kiev between Russia’s two arch-enemies – Viktor Yushchenko and Mikhail Saakashvili, Putin surmised that “two presidents always have something to talk about” (“двум президентам всегда есть о чем поговорить”)… Then he offered a poetic paraphrase of Pushkin, suggesting what he thought that “something” might be: “Бойцы вспоминали минувшие дни и битвы, что вместе продули они” (“The warriors recalled their days bygone, and all the battles they never won”). It was a clear reference to the Ossetian war that Saakashvili lost despite Yushchenko’s enthusiastic moral and military support.*
Putin’s poetic feat earned him kudos with the Russian press and public. In Ukraine, not so much.
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