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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Lets Loose at Tatar Festivities




President Vladimir Putin took an active part in mid-summer festivities in central Russia over the weekend, defeating a young woman at arm wrestling, retrieving a coin from a tub of fermented milk with his teeth and dancing energetically.


"For the first time, we see a dancing Vladimir Putin,'' said the announcer on NTV television, which showed a T-shirted Putin twirling with a woman in an ethnic Tatar dress in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan, 700 kilometers east of Moscow.


Other television coverage showed Putin, dressed in a T-shirt and casual trousers, greeting revelers at the Sabantui festival marking the end of spring sowing in the mainly Moslem region of Tatarstan on the Volga River.


"This is a beautiful, warm, all-embracing holiday, the holiday of your people," a grinning Putin said after greeting the crowd in the Turkic-based Tatar language. "Everything, everybody is intertwined in our country."


Putin, initially stiff in public appearances, now appears to relish the attention given to his informal outings. He has been seen on television skiing skillfully down slopes in southern Russia and throwing opponents in judo, his favorite sport.


Making his second trip to Tatarstan in three months, Putin donned a black and silver embroidered skull cap and applauded girls dancing in flowing green and violet dresses and veils.


Television showed him effortlessly defeating Tatarstan's women's arm wrestling champion, Yulia Beganova, and then kissing her hand.


Covered in a protective plastic smock, he then recovered a coin from a tub, most of his face dripping in coffee-colored ryazhenka fermented milk as he emerged.


He also watched young men scampering up poles and kuresh wrestling, with contestants draped in a large towel, before attending horse races at which the winning jockeys were awarded cars by Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev.


Since Putin took office, he has tightened up on local autonomy and annulled measures adopted by Tatarstan and other regions deemed to contradict national legislation.


But there were no public complaints from Shaimiyev and Bashkortostan's Murtaza Rakhimov, who both sat close to Putin during the Sabantui festival, even though they are two of the more independent-minded provincial leaders.


On Friday, the lower house of parliament approved a bill submitted by Putin to strip regional leaders of their seats in the upper house. The bill must still win approval in the upper house.


Tatarstan secured some of the widest autonomy enjoyed by the nation's 89 regions under Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Moslem activists there have expressed sympathy for Moslem separatists in Chechnya but not followed their example.