'Money, Money, Money' for Putin

By Kevin O'Flynn

President Dmitry Medvedev has made no secret of his affinity for British hard-rock band Deep Purple. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, it seems, prefers the cheery tunes of 1970s pop sensation ABBA.

Putin took a few hours off from dealing with the financial crisis late last month to dance to hits like "Money, Money, Money" performed by the ABBA tribute band BjЪrn Again in a private concert for the prime minister and a group of friends, organizers of the show told The Moscow Times.

"Putin and his colleague friends were all dancing and getting involved with the choreography," BjЪrn Again founder and creator Rod Stephen said in a telephone interview from London.

Putin and the others waved their hands in the air during a rousing rendition of the Swedish group's "Super Trouper" and pointed their fingers during "Mama Mia," Stephen said.

The Jan. 22 show took place in a concert hall at a Kremlin residence near Valdai Lake, in the northwestern Novgorod region, said Stephen, whose band charged ?20,000 ($29,000) for the performance.

A source involved in the concert said it was organized by the Kremlin for Putin but that no state funds were used in arranging the show.

"ABBA is popular, and [Putin] likes them," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The source declined to say how much money the concert had cost to arrange.

Wealthy Russian businessmen have become famous for paying millions of dollars to fly in pop stars such as George Michael, Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera for lavish concerts.

But politicians have also gotten in on the act. In January 2008, Medvedev attended a private concert played by former Deep Purple guitarist Joe Lynn Turner, who was put up in the five-star Baltschug Kempinski Hotel and presented with an expensive Swiss watch after the show.

BjЪrn Again's reception was more austere.

The quartet and their crew spent a total of 16 hours on the road driving between Domodedovo Airport and Valdai Lake and were put up in basic accommodations at the Kremlin residence, Stephen said. No one from the small audience came to thank the group afterward, he added.

While Putin and his entourage actively danced, there was little interaction between the group and the audience, Stephen said.

This was largely because of a gauze curtain hanging in front of the stage and preventing the performers from clearing seeing who was in the audience, Stephen said, calling the cloth precaution "quite bizarre."

"They could tell that they were enjoying it," said Stephen, adding that the audience danced for most of the hour-long show.

Requests to speak to members of the band were rejected. Stephen said in e-mailed comments that the members were worried about being misquoted.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he knew nothing about the concert.

Stephen said he first thought that it was a prank call when someone rang him up "out of the blue going this is the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, we want BjЪrn Again for a concert."

"I really thought someone was sending me up," Stephen said. "I was having a bit of a laugh to myself, but then it struck me: 'Oh, you know, this is a genuine inquiry.'"


Adrian McBreen contributed to this story.