White, glistening and six meters long: the table chosen for Vladimir Putin’s meeting with world leaders has sparked a flurry of memes – and a slew of speculation about its symbolism.
The stretching table has featured in photographs splashed across the internet in recent days, as the Russian president sits with Western leaders eager to defuse tensions over a feared Ukrainian invasion.
He sat across from French President Emmanuel Macron at the now-famous table last week, and on Tuesday sat at the same table with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Officially, the six-meter (20-foot) long lacquered wood table is being used as a coronavirus protocol – to ensure ample distance between Putin and his guests.
But analysts say its symbolism speaks volumes, showing Putin as a distant, isolated figure.
“It is obvious that he is more and more alone,” independent political analyst Konstantin Kalachev told AFP.
“This loneliness is obvious, it seems he no longer cares what other people think of him.”
Western nations have sounded the alarm in recent weeks of an imminent Russian invasion on Ukraine, prompting a flurry of shuttle diplomacy from diplomats and leaders eager to ease tensions.
Putin has denied plans to invade, but has demanded security guarantees from Washington and its allies.
– ‘Nothing terrible here’ –
It is not the only long table preferred by Putin.
The 69-year-old Russian leader, famously cautious about coronavirus, has also been pictured sitting at a long rectangular one for meetings with his advisors.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu were forced to sit several meters away from Putin as they delivered reports on Ukraine.
Asked about these distancing measures, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday they were “temporary”.
He said they were in place to avoid the highly-contagious and often asymptomatic Omicron variant.
“There is nothing terrible or special here. We are going through times that dictate special measures,” Peskov told reporters.
Extraordinary steps have been taken to protect Putin, who for over a year has been living in a strictly-controlled virus-free bubble.
Foreign leaders, journalists and officials were required to self-isolate in advance of being in contact with Putin and a disinfection tunnel was installed at his residence outside Moscow.
Members of foreign delegations and journalists wishing to go to the Kremlin must provide three negative PCR tests in the four days leading up to their visit.
And visiting leaders who want a face-to-face meeting with Putin must agree to a Kremlin-administered swab or settle for the far end of the table.
Both Macron and Scholz declined the Kremlin test, opting instead to get one from their own medics.
– The Last Supper? –
Adding to the pomp of the long, white table is the decor – thick, draped gold curtains on a large light-colored rug in a Kremlin reception room.
A small bouquet of flowers sits in the middle, exaggerating the table’s largesse.
The images have spawned widely-circulated memes online, one making the table look like a skating rink and another of the Last Supper.
One features Putin looking across the table for an eye exam.
Netizens have been quick to pounce on the images, dishing up humorous comments on social media despite the backdrop of crisis.
Some jokes suggested that Ikea name one of their long tables after Putin.
According to Kalachev, Putin “risks looking ridiculous” and seeing his image suffer.
Even Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, a European ally of Putin who was hosted in the Kremlin in early February, “joked that he had never seen such a long table”, Kalachev added.
On the other hand, Kalachev said, these images “should please everyone”.
“It is unlikely that a person paying so much attention to his health will start World War III.”
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