Vladimir Putin has been photographed sitting at another absurdly-long conference table for individual meetings with his government’s ministers over Russia’s tensions with Ukraine.
The Russian president was snapped sitting at the end of the long mahogany table at a distance of at least four meters from foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and defense minister Sergei Shoigu.
The image from Russian state media was posted on Twitter by global affairs analyst Michael Bociurkiw, who pointed out that – on 10 February – Mr Putin sat close to Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev “divided only by a small coffee table”.
Correction: on Feb 10 Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev met with Putin. The two men shook hands, and sat close to each other, divided only by a small coffee table.
(Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP) pic.twitter.com/OLcXak4sGC
— Michael Bociurkiw (@WorldAffairsPro) February 14, 2022
Others created memes using the photo. The country‘ Moscow reporter Maria Sahuquillo turned the long table into a sushi conveyor belt, adding: “Putin likes big tables, that’s how it is”.
Shaun Walker, central and eastern Europe reporter for the Guardianjoked that Mr Putin was sitting next to a machine with red and green buttons on it that would not be out of place in a Bond villain’s study.
A Twitter user called Kristian Harstad posted a mock IKEA advert for an extremely long table called “Putin”, adding the text “table for hosting guests, $599.99”.
As well as giving his own ministers a wide berth, Mr Putin has also kept his distance from his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
Photos showed the pair at a meeting in Moscow earlier this month sitting – again, about four meters – apart at opposite ends of a white oval-shaped table.
It has been reported that Mr Macron sat far away from Mr Putin because he had refused a Russian Covid-19 test over concerns about Moscow getting his DNA.
Also, 69-year-old Mr Putin is said to be cautious about the risk of contracting the virus, and has mostly held talks online or on the phone.
It has also been reported that anyone he holds in-person meetings with is required to self-isolate for a week beforehand.
The table-humour has provided some comic relief at a time when Western intelligence officials have said that Russia has put in place the majority of military manpower needed for its plans for “multiple attacks” on the Ukraine border and the capture of Kiev.
After the meeting, Mr Lavrov appeared to signal in a statement the Kremlin’s intention to stay on a diplomatic path amid the warnings by Western nations that Russia could launch an imminent invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Lavrov had suggested that Moscow should continue talks with the US and its allies, even though they have rejected Russia’s main security demands – which include a pledge to never allow Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations to join Nato.
Moscow also wants a guarantee that the Nato alliance will stop deploying weapons to Ukraine and roll back its forces from eastern Europe.
The West has rejected those demands, and Mr Lavrov noted that Washington offered to hold talks on limits for missile deployments in Europe, restrictions on military drills, and other measures.
Mr Putin has yet to formally respond to these proposals.