Russian President Vladimir Putin set Russian media abuzz Tuesday following his news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.
The subject of Putin’s remarks? The Minsk agreements, a ceasefire protocol signed by Ukraine and Russia in 2015, and whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could abide by them. But it was Putin’s coarse language, rather than the technical details of the truce that generated the most clicks in Russia.
“As for the Minsk agreements, are they alive and do they have any prospect or not?” Putin said. “I believe that there is simply no other alternative. I repeat once again, in Kyiv, they either say that they will comply, or they say that this will destroy their country. The incumbent president recently stated that he does not like a single point of these Minsk agreements. ‘Like it or don’t like it, it’s your duty, my beauty.’ They must be fulfilled. It won’t work otherwise.”
Once again, Putin has given the world a sense of his soul. The Kremlin leader’s position on the Minsk agreement is not new. But his crude vernacular – addressing Zelensky in condescending and gendered language – left some Russian journalists wondering openly if the president was, in essence, making a crude joke.
Asked in a conference call with reporters if those remarks might be “hinting at a sexual subtext,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov gave an anodyne response. “The president meant that if a state committed to certain obligations, if there is a signature of the head of state [under them], then these commitments must be fulfilled,” he said.
A reporter pressed further: Was Putin, perhaps, familiar with the work of a Russian-language folk-punk band that apparently had a line similar to Putin’s in one of their songs? Peskov gave a firm no.
“I am quite convinced that Vladimir Putin is not familiar with the work of this group,” he said. “And I suspect that perhaps at some point this group might have borrowed it [the line] from Russian folklore.”
Folklore or not, the remark laid bare Putin’s bullysome attitude toward Ukraine, which the president has made clear he doesn’t see as a real country. And it was also reminder of a strain of unrepentant misogyny in both Putin’s politics and his public remarks.
For starters, the talk about forcing a “beauty” lie back and take abuse is coming from the same person who, exactly five years ago, decriminalized forms of domestic violence.
The Russian leader’s tough-guy talk is sometimes explained away as a sort of folksiness that is a performance for a domestic audience, but Putin’s choice of verb терпеть in his remarks on Monday (to take it, or to endure) shows an ugly underlying sentiment about the role of women.
Asked about Putin’s remarks, Zelensky reformulated the Russian leader’s words in a language Putin would understand.
“Of course, there are some things we can’t argue about with the president of the Russian Federation,” Zelensky said. “Ukraine is a beauty. As far as ‘my’ is concerned, that’s a slight overstatement.”
Regarding the line about being dutiful and taking it, Zelensky added, “I think Ukraine is very patient. Because that’s wisdom. I think that’s important not just for Ukraine, but for all of Europe.”
It’s not the first time Putin has used such language. One of his most famous quotes dates back to 1999, when he was still prime minister, when he vowed to crush Chechen separatists, saying, “If they’re on the toilet, we will waste them out in the outhouse.”
The same applies to the current crisis. When he discards the diplomatic language, Putin speaks that we may see him.
CNN’s Anna Chernova and Darya Tarasova contributed to this report.