Russia’s action-man president has injured his finger sparring with Olympic judo champions but nonetheless held negotiations with Belarus and played ice hockey on Friday.
Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, the long-serving president of Belarus, played a friendly match with officials and oligarchs including Gennady Timchenko, the energy magnate who is under US sanctions.
Mr Putin had hosted the presidents of Iran and Turkey in Sochi on Thursday for talks about US plans to withdraw from Syria, which he called a “positive step”. The day before he had been filmed skiing at a local resort with the president of Belarus and Mr Lukashenko’s “mini-me” son Nikolai.
Having dealt with Thursday’s geopolitical affairs, Mr Putin, who trained in judo as a teenager and has co-authored several books about the sport, went to a training centre to practice with the national judo team.
The workout began with the slightly winded head of state high-stepping and somersaulting around the mat with the athletes, then moved on to a sparring session.
After throwing Olympic gold medalist Beslan Mudranov to the mat, Mr Putin could be seen examining his finger. He resumed grappling with his opponent but soon ceased, holding his finger and walking over to show his hand to the team’s coach.
As officials looked on worriedly, several athletes ran for a bandage. Seconds later, Mr Mudranov wrapped the president’s finger and the two resumed sparring.
“During one grapple he cut his finger a bit, or it was a bruise,” Mr Putin’s spokesman told journalists on Friday. “But this is a normal injury, not a big deal, it’s not even really an injury. Sport is sport.”
Mr Mudranov told media that it had been a “great honour” if somewhat “nerve-wracking” to spar with the Mr Putin.
The Russian leader has been known for his outdoorsy photo shoots, some of them shirtless, and high-octane stunts like piloting jet fighters, gliders and submarines, scuba diving and tranquillising various large wild animals.
Photographers and television crews were invited to both his judo sparring session and hockey match.
He has played several such matches in Sochi with oligarchs and former hockey greats, once scoring seven unbelievably easy goals during a game on his birthday in 2015.
The Belarusian leader has been meeting frequently with Mr Putin after Russia announced it would raise taxes on oil production while slashing export duties. This could drain billions of dollars from the budget of Belarus, which refines cheap Russian crude before earning duties exporting it as part of an economic union with its larger neighbour.
Mr Lukashenko claimed on Friday that the two leaders had said “not even a word” about the problem during their three days in Sochi.
Mr Putin agreed but then reminded reporters that this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the union state agreement between their two countries, another hint that Russia will, as many expect, insist on even more political influence over Belarus in exchange for economic relief.
Путин и Лукашенко сейчас сыграют в хоккей: Александр Григорьевич отрабатывает выход один в ноль, но пока получается не очень pic.twitter.com/QVxc0mZd3h
— Дмитрий Смирнов (@dimsmirnov175) February 15, 2019
Some have also speculated that he could hold onto power by becoming head of the union state when his final presidential term ends in 2024.
Despite the standoff over the oil tax reform, Mr Putin and Mr Lukashenko were seen chatting as they took the ice and later on the sidelines of the hockey match
A journalist from the Kremlin pool posted a warm-up video of Mr Lukashenko apparently receiving a pass from Mr Putin and missing a shot into an open net.