Russian President Vladimir Putin is a man of many macho accomplishments. He has hugged a bear, neutralized an escaped tiger, and hung out with Steven Seagal. And though he has never won a Super Bowl, he does own a Super Bowl ring.
But like many of his other trumpeted achievements, the story behind how Putin came into possession of that ring is the subject of dispute.
What's certain is that the ring formerly belonged to Patriots owner Robert Kraft. During a 2005 visit to St. Petersburg, Russia, with other business leaders, Kraft met Putin and let him admire his diamond-encrusted 2005 Super Bowl ring. Putin tried on the ring, and wound up keeping it.
That's where the story gets murky.
Initially, after some speculation that Putin had kept the ring by mistake, Kraft insisted that it was a gift. In a statement released shortly after the meeting, Kraft said Putin "was clearly taken with its uniqueness," so Kraft decided, on the spot, to let him keep it "as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin."
Yet late last week, Kraft changed his story, claiming that he hadn't intended to part with his $25,000 ring after all. Rather, he said Putin tried it on, and said, "I can kill someone with this ring," before walking out flanked by three KGB officers.
Kraft said he had wanted to get the ring back, but that prompted a phone call from the Bush White House, which urged him to let it go so as to not damage relations between the two countries.
"I had an emotional tie to the ring, it has my name on it," he said, according to the New York Post. "I don't want to see it on eBay. There was a pause on the other end of the line, and the voice repeated, 'It would really be in the best interest if you meant to give the ring as a present.'"
A spokesman for Putin responded that Kraft's claim was "weird" and that he'd absolutely given the ring as a gift.
And now, in the latest twist, Kraft has backed off his own story of alleged theft.
Here's a statement from a Patriots spokesman, released Sunday:
It's a humorous, anecdotal story that Robert re-tells for laughs. He loves that his ring is at the Kremlin and, as he stated back in 2005, he continues to have great respect for Russia and the leadership of President Putin. In particular, he credits President Putin for modernizing the Russian economy. An added benefit from the attention this story gathered eight years ago was the creation of some Patriots fan clubs in Russia. [NFL.com]
Maybe Kraft, remembering Putin's offhand remark about how he could just kill a man, decided it was in his best interest to retract his tale of alleged theft after all.