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Putin’s forgetfulness at conference raises questions

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a few slip ups while giving a wide-ranging speech at an annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, raising questions from social media users.

During the meeting, in which Putin said Russia aims to “build a new world,” the president messed up a very simple Russian saying, appeared to forget the name of an individual who he was asked about just months ago, and contradicted himself when talking about the existence of private military companies (PMCs) in the country.

Putin responded during the session to an accusation by the Chairman of the European Council, Charles Michel, who said on October 3 that Russia “betrayed” the Armenian people. Michel said Russia failed to defend Nagorno-Karabakh during Azerbaijan’s brief military offensive last month that caused the region’s ethnic Armenian population to flee to Armenia.

“You know, our people say: ‘Whose horse would moo, but yours would be silent,'” Putin said, before he was interrupted and corrected by the moderator of the discussion, Fyodor Lukyanov.

“A cow,” Lukyanov clarified.

“Cow, horse, it doesn’t matter. An animal, in short,” the president added, laughing his error off.

The Russian saying is typically aimed at those who speak carelessly and in a judgmental manner, and is often used in response to accusations. An English equivalent would be “the pot calling the kettle black.”

In the same meeting in Sochi, Putin claimed not to know Russian sociologist and Kremlin critic Boris Kagarlitsky, who was arrested on July 26 on “justification of terrorism” charges and faces up to seven years in prison. That’s despite Putin commenting on his case just days after he was detained.

When Putin was asked to release Kagarlitsky on Thursday, he responded: “To be honest, I don’t know who Kagarlitsky is. I’ll take your paper, look and respond. I promise.”

And the Russian leader contradicted himself once more when talking about the existence of PMCs in the country.

He said a few thousand former fighters of “PMC” Wagner Group had signed contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry. A few moments later, he said no PMCs exist in Russia, and never did.

Putin has made several U-turns on the existence and use of mercenaries in Russia.

On September 29, the Kremlin announced that Putin met with Andrey Troshev, a former commander of the Wagner Group, to discuss the formation of “volunteer units” that can “perform various combat tasks” in Ukraine.

That’s after Putin said in July that the Wagner Group “does not exist” in accordance to Russian laws and that it would be absorbed in the Russian Defense Ministry following an uprising and march on Moscow led by the group’s late leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, on June 24.

Prior to the Wagner Group’s involvement in the war in Ukraine, the Kremlin had repeatedly denied its existence, claiming to have no knowledge of the organization. The Kremlin maintained that mercenaries are illegal under Russian law and that private military security companies would also not be permitted under its legislation to offer services outside of Russia.

But Putin changed course days after Prigozhin’s mutiny and admitted to having fully funded the Wagner Group and its operations.

The Russian president appeared to change his mind just weeks later, according to Russian daily newspaper Kommersant. When asked whether the Wagner Group would remain a fighting unit, Putin appeared to become agitated.

“Well, the Wagner Group does not exist!” Putin said, according to Kommersant. The Russian leader reportedly said there is no law in Russia relating to private military companies.

His latest remarks on Thursday about PMCs in Russia similarly did not add up.

Social media users suggested Putin has “gone crazy,” that he was “talking nonsense,” and that he could have issues with his memory.

Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry for comment via email.

Do you have a tip on a world news story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about the Russia-Ukraine war? Let us know via worldnews@newsweek.com.

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