Putin skirts his security detail in Saint Petersburg

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Saint Petersburg Friday where he attended the memorial ceremony for his long time coach and mentor, Anatoly Rakhlin, who died this past Wednesday, 7 August, at the age of 75 after a long illness.

Mr. Putin had considered Rakhlin to be his “second father” and a mentor over the years. Coach Rakhlin had been head of the Russian Judo Federation and Mr. Putin’s judo coach since the President was a young boy of 13 years old.

Mr. Putin brought flowers to the memorial ceremony.
Mr. Putin brought flowers to the memorial ceremony.

After standing with former sparing partners for a moment of silence, the president sat with the family of his old coach and mentor during the ceremony. In Coach Rakhlin’s 50 years of work he trained more than 100 holders of the Master of Sport title and in 2009 became the Russian women’s national judo team’s chief trainer.

President Putin and Mrs. Rachlin, widow of his long time judo coach.
President Putin and Mrs. Rakhlin, widow of his long time judo coach.

Mr. Rakhlin will be buried at the Kuzmolovskoye Cemetery, just north of Saint Petersburg in the Leningrad Oblast.

After the ceremony, something happened that was a tad out of character for Vladimir Putin and while some may say that this was just another publicity stunt designed to show Russians that their leader is a man of courage and made of steel, our take is that Mr. Putin wanted to be alone with his thoughts immediately after mourning the death of a very close mentor.

Russians take pride in the men who’ve graduated from youth as those high stepping Kremlin regiment taking turns guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier and parading around the Kremlin during diplomatic functions. They’re charged with protecting the Kremlin, the President, the Prime Minister and certain territories in and around St. Petersburg. As they grow in experience and training, a select group are gradually merged into the elite Protective Service, very much like American’s Secret Service.

At the same time every world leader must at some point feel smothered by the constant protection and would like to break away, like Putin and Medvedev did one night during the 2008 when they jumped into separate cars and sped off to a cafe/bar while leaving the PS scrambling to jump into cars of their own and catch up. It was a publicity stunt that caught the Protective Service by surprise and the youth in the cafe/bar seemed to love it, especially given Mr. Medvedev’s public faith and the fact that he rarely touches alcohol in public.

The President had just emerged from the memorial ceremony held at the sports club “Turbostroitel” which is housed in a historic building from the 19th century on Kondratyevsky Avenue.  We should set the stage by acknowledging that the streets nearby had for the most part been blocked off–standard practice, although there was a small trickle of traffic from a nearby intersection.

In the video below you’ll see a small crowd (prescreened) gathered to greet him but instead of getting into his waiting limo, he scooted past the open door and made a break for freedom down a deserted block (Vatutina Street) toward the waterfront along Sverdlovsk. You can see that Protective Service agents had to scramble to catch up and several raced ahead because the Sverdlovsk area was open and had not been blocked off.

Mr. Putin walked a total of 600+ metres to the waterfront after telling the head of his security detail to order agents to give him some space. At the waterfront he was ushered into his limo before being driven away.

The President returned to Moscow where he had a working meeting with Acting Khabarovsk Territory Governor Vyacheslav Shport. On Saturday Mr. Putin will attend the opening ceremony of the XIV World Championship in Athletics taking place at Moscow’s Luzhniki Olympic Stadium from August 10–18.