At every summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin plays the role of the “bad guy”, whether he offers a shawl to the Chinese first lady or decides to skip a working breakfast to sleep longer.
Although Putin seems comfortable in that role, his advisors spend the day clarifying misunderstandings after each shoot, formal ceremony or bilateral meeting, whether in the Beijing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit or in the Brisbane G20 meeting.
It seems that any slip or “bad” gesture by Putin is a gold mine for the media, now that there are fewer and fewer charismatic leaders such as the late Hugo Chavez and Muammar Gaddafi, or former Cuban president Fidel Castro.
The image of the Russian leader has not improved after American magazine Forbes declared him the most powerful man on Earth for the second year in a row, with US President Barack Obama as a runner-up.
On the contrary, the image of Putin’s strength and the apparent weakness of Obama seem to encourage critics to be even harder on the Russian leader.
In recent days, Putin was featured on magazine covers, but not for his statements on the conflict in Ukraine or his criticism of the West.
At the APEC summit in Beijing, the talk was about Putin’s gesture to put a shawl on the shoulders of the Chinese First Lady, Peng Liyuan, during the gala dinner.
Media were quick to accuse him of breaking protocol and the traditions of the host country, China, known for its conservatism.
They also stressed that Peng was supposedly uncomfortable and had rejected Putin’s gesture.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov commented on the incident saying that regardless of tradition, cold is the same for everyone and offering a shawl is normal behaviour.
In his view, the rest is prejudice, useless and absolutely absurd discussion.
It is clear from the footage that Peng accepted the shawl at first for only seconds, and later took it off to get the jacket offered by one of her assistants.
The controversy led to the video of the incident being removed in China.
After the incident, Putin traveled to Australia, where, in an attempt to defuse tension, he did not hesitate to cuddle a koala.
Since the very beginning of the summit, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stressed that Russia must leave Ukraine and Putin answered that it was impossible, since his troops were not even there, Peskov said.
The Western press described the incident as a clear affront to Putin, while the Kremlin denied it.
The press also said Putin wished to leave the summit early, something discarded as nonsense by Peskov, who denied that any of the partners had pressured his president with new sanctions over Ukraine.
Putin actually left Brisbane hours earlier than expected, but explained that he did it simply for reasons of agenda and to get some sleep before returning to work.
In recent weeks, the Kremlin has also had to deny rumours that Putin suffered from a fatal cancer.