Last week, the internet was flooded with memes in the aftermath of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron’s ill-fated five-hour encounter, which had no tangible conclusion except the week of jokes that it produced. Despite Putin’s well-publicized fear around Covid, it was impossible not to interpret the image as a symbol of the Russian leader’s increasing hostility to diplomacy and the modern-day Western bloc, especially for a ruler who has long garnered ridicule and respect for his farcical yet captivating visual campaigns. (See images Putin and the Kremlin have curated to portray him as a macho guy, commandeering a horse through Siberia and photoshopped strutting next to a bear on its hind legs.)
Yesterday, February 14, Putin was captured on video consulting with Sergei Lavrov, who has served as Russia’s foreign minister since 2004, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, at a comparably lengthy table. And once again, the internet had a field day with another torrent of memes highlighting the Russian leader’s bizarre taste in tables.
El Pais’ Moscow reporter Maria Sahuquillo posted a meme overlaying the Kremlin table with colorful bowls and plates topped with intricate dishes traveling along as in a sushi conveyor belt.
Another tweet shared a photo from the Kremlin capturing the meeting from a different angle, from which a red and green button machine is visible in the foreground. The comically analog look of that kind of device, sitting feet away from one of a handful of men in the world with the power to authorize an atomic attack, is enough to make anyone shudder (although apparently, it’s just a simultaneous translation system).
Perhaps the most inventive meme parodies an Ikea product ad, depicting a pared-down four-legged long white table named the “Putin,” marketed as a “table for hosting guests,” and priced at $599.99. It’s nowhere near as ornate as last week’s Kremlin oval table, which is supported by three thick plinths rimmed by gold-ornamented, corinthian-looking columns. But it’s a consumer-friendly dupe if you, like Putin, are looking to detain your dinner guests and make them fidget across some 20 feet of distance.
Some other memes have envisioned an escalator tunnel, bowling lane, and baggage claim taking the place of the meeting table.
The fact that Putin was distanced even in the company of his closest advisers suggests that his spokesman’s attribution of Putin and Macron’s uncomfortable seating arrangement to the Omicron variant was not a white lie. (Nonetheless, it’s still telling for the state of geopolitics today that Macron allegedly refused to take the Kremlin’s regimented tests because he didn’t want them to get a hold of his DNA; and Chinese President Xi Jinping was photographed within close range of Putin recently.)
Meanwhile, the Russian-Ukrainian border remains tense, with tens of thousands of Russian troops on standby. While Lavrov maintains that diplomatic channels are still wide open, and Russia has announced that it will “partially pull back troops,” American and British officials have warned that a Russian attack could come as early as this week.
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