Vladimir Putin is not a man to be trifled with.
If this hasn’t been made abundantly clear to most of the news-consuming world by now, it damn well should have been. Putin, a man who has basically turned Russia into a new dictatorship and bullied the rest of the Western world into ignoring it has also (allegedly) killed at least two journalists in brutal intimidation moves AND regularly publishes propaganda highlighting his hyper-manliness at every opportunity (this includes photo shoots of the President kicking the crap out of people in Judo exhibitions and hunting bears. He’s like the bad guy from Rocky IV if the film had been set during the Presidency of Teddy Roosevelt).
It’s not possible to say whether New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft got this memo. Right now, all we know is that Kraft’s Super Bowl ring is on display in the Kremlin. How exactly it got there is unclear, and Kraft’s story has undergone several revisions since he met Putin in 2005. At the time, Kraft said that he had given the ring, valued at somewhere around $25,000, to Putin as a gift, but earlier this month The New York Post (a bastion of reliable reporting) quoted Kraft as saying that the ring had been taken from him. That version goes like this: Kraft met Putin in Moscow with a business delegation, and for some reason (presumably because Putin was admiring it), took off his ring and let Putin hold it. According to Kraft, Putin put the ring on and then claimed he could kill somebody with it (!), before slipping it into his pocket and walking away, surrounded by bodyguards.
A representative from the Patriots camp came out recently to claim this quote was a “joke” that Kraft tells regularly to get a chuckle, but given the circumstances, that sounds an awful lot like kid who is willing to let the bully keep his truck if it means he’ll stop getting wedgies. Putin claims the ring was a gift, but—weirdly–denies having any memory of the meeting ever taking place, despite the existence of plenty of photographs that show the President trying on the ring. The official statements coming from Putin and the Kremlin amount to little more than a very dry and smirking “fuck you”: the Russian President has referred to the situation as a dire “political matter” and just today, suggested that he will personally have a Russian artisan craft a replacement ring of a unique design and comparable worth for Kraft to keep and pass down through the team.
It’s my personal feeling that Putin probably pocketed the ring, Kraft was told to keep quiet about it so as not to rustle any feathers, and then let it slip last week because he’s an old man who’s gotten tired of being ribbed about it on the golf course. The Patriots’ “official” statement basically amounts to a “hush” for Kraft, and Putin’s response tells us exactly what he thinks of Kraft’s testicular fortitude.
While Putin’s motivations for taking the ring (if that is what happened) remain unclear—did he just think he needed to show the world at large that he would do whatever he wanted?—the thornier question lies in Kraft’s eventual response. Is he going to take Putin’s “replacement” ring? Accepting it basically confirms Putin’s side of the story AND forever marks Kraft AND the Patriots as Putin’s bitch(es), but I don’t really see any other move for Kraft, other than throwing diplomacy aside, flat-out calling Putin a liar and demanding the ring back, a move the state department would likely frown upon. Given the pride of Massholes when it comes to their sports teams, I can’t imagine many Pats fans being happy now that this story has broken mainstream news, and a “commie ring” probably isn’t going to cut it. Add in that whole situation with the Boston Marathon being bombed a while back and it’s likely that anti-Russian sentiment in Boston is about to hit an all-time high (yes, I know the Tsarnaevs were Chechen, but if you think the bulk of the Patriots fanbase know that you’ve obviously never spent much time in Boston).
We might never know what really happened to Kraft’s super bowl ring, but it’s shaping up to be a more embarrassing headline for the Patriots than “18-1”.