I Drank Coffee with Russian President Vladmir Putin - A True Story!
As some readers might know, I just came back from Sochi, Russia. I was there for the 2017 Sochi International Film Festival and Awards event. And what a fantastic event it was! The people were great! The movies were great! And the accommodations were fantastic!
I woke up with a hangover every single day.... Oh, the pain!
Everything was free! My airfare, hotel, food.... And drinks were free too!!!! I drank more vodka in six days in Sochi than I would ever drink in six lifetimes.
I woke up sleeping on the sofa in the hotel lobby, with no recollection of how I got there... Twice! Two times!
If I did that at home, my wife would have killed me.
Besides eating and drinking to excess every day and night, and watching cool movies, my main dream and mission was to drink vodka shots with Russian Federation president, Vladimir Putin.
I can say "Mission Accomplished!" Well, sort of.... Read on!
My first few days at the festival I spent all my time learning how to say, "I want to meet Vladimir Putin" to everyone I came across. Most laughed at me. When I realized that meeting Vlad might be a tad bit difficult (Hey Steven Seagal met him, why can't I?) I started asking people if I could drink with the Russian mafia.
I told my friend, well-known Russian Actor, Oleg Hill, if he could introduce me to the mafia. He leaned towards me and whispered, "I can't introduce you to the mafia, but see our security staff? They are all ex-KGB members. But, of course for you, my friend, I can arrange for you to drink vodka with ex-KGB members!"
Ex-KGB!? I'm in!
It was true! I think. These ex-KGB guys were huge and they didn't talk much. Oleg pointed out to me an older guy who seemed like the boss of the ex-KGB guys and he wore a red star badge on his suit. Oleg pointed to him and said, "See that red star medallion on his suit? He is a friend of Putin's and was a very high ranking general in the KGB. He won that medal, the highest honor in Russia, during the war in Afghanistan."
I looked at the general and, indeed, he wore the bright red star medal proudly upon his chest. I also knew he was the boss because he was ordering around the rest of the ex-KGB guys constantly. Oleg added, "Notice how he always has his right hand in his suit pocket? That's because he lost his arm in the war."
Come to think of it, it was true. The guy always had his hand in his pocket! Poor guy! I guess he got his arm blown off destroying a terrorist base camp single-handedly with nothing but a Swiss Army knife clenched in between his gritted teeth.
I said, "OK, Oleg! Tell the ex-KGB guys I want to drink vodka shots with them." Oleg patted me on the back, winked and said, "Leave it to me, my friend." He then smiled at me and confidently walked off!
Oh joy! How many people can brag that they got trashed with the KGB? Not many, I'd reckon!
A few days passed and I never got the chance to drink with the KGB guys. Oleg would later tell me, "They are ex-KGB, they don't drink."
Later on, I'd meet the general one early morning and there he was waiting at the bus barking orders. I tried to talk to him and I shook his hand... I SHOOK HIS HAND!? Wait a minute! He had two arms! That Oleg told me a bunch of bullshit! I'll bet he told his friends, "That crazy American wants to drink with Putin or the KGB!"
I could imagine them howling with laughter at my expense.
Well, the days went by and I never met Putin, the Russian mafia, and I am not even sure those guys were ex-KGB! When I confronted Oleg about this and told him he lied to me about the general's missing arm, he laughed and said, "But, of course, my friend!"
Oleg and I would drink shots together several times... Each time to my regret and massive hangover the next day (everyday).
Upon the day of departure from Sochi, I realized that I had failed in my one mission in Russia: to drink with Vladimir Putin....
Or had I?
Defeated and dejected... With no photos of me and my pal Vlad, Vladimir Putin, I took the bus back to Sochi airport and then headed off to Moscow airport.
It was there, suddenly and to my total surprise, that the trail to Vladmir Putin suddenly grew hot. Hotter than I could ever imagine. For inside Moscow airport, I found Valdimir Putin merchandise on sale everywhere! Can you believe it? I guess the guy is sort of like some rock-star. You name it, they were selling it; Putin coffee cups, key chains, refrigerator magnets, T-shirts, etc, etc, and the Holy Grail of Valdimir Putin stuff: the 2018 Vladimir Putin calendar!
Putin calendars?! I had to have one, so I bought one. It was the last of only two at all the shops I could find at Moscow airport! Treasure!!!!
For your enjoyment, here are some select photos from inside the calendar!
During a tough chapter in UK-Russian relations I was pleased to have been able to attend Luba's special evening... Luba , you are a brave and valiant woman to spearhead such a high-profile project in a hostile environment. But those of us who spent the 23rd with you had the privilege of breathing the same air as the legendary Stephen Frears, the American star Nick Nolte and the superb string ensemble (KANDOUR QUARTET).
Luba, this is a crucial time for artists to recover their voice, you are helping to restore the connection between all of us, film makers from all over the world. I applaud the philosophy that underpins what you are doing.
Congratulations on making history, Luba. Thanks to Anatoly Pakhomov, of course! Sochi is the ideal choice for the concept of creating an international film festival designed to restore the face of art to the world through cinema. (…) Russia has always presented to the world the best examples of literature, philosophy, cinema and, in general, culture! And now the new Sochi International Film Awards wrote a new chapter in history with the same concept.
A structured and strict concept of a powerful film festival has been formed, and you managed to prove its feasibility. Congratulations on what you have achieved, Luba. You've got proof of concept under your belt now! I thank Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov for supporting the new important film festival.
A smashing success! Thank you for bringing Moscow and Sochi delegations, for the unexpected Sochi-wood glamour, the feedback from staff members and external guests was unreservedly positive.
Admirable Lubov Balagova-Kandour.
President and Producer of the “IRIDA” First Sochi International Film Awards. Majestic woman and lady of the world. Her motto - nothing is impossible. A woman of words and deeds. Beautiful person and magnificent woman.