'President Putin could at least have put on a tie and returned to the Kremlin'

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The Independent Online

"It is kind of you British to help, but perhaps it would have been better if you had offered earlier," said the cleaner at the motel in Kursk, a city far from the sea but grieving over its lost submariners. "We did offer," I started to say, before realising that it would be better to avoid a competition in righteousness.

"It is kind of you British to help, but perhaps it would have been better if you had offered earlier," said the cleaner at the motel in Kursk, a city far from the sea but grieving over its lost submariners. "We did offer," I started to say, before realising that it would be better to avoid a competition in righteousness.

It is hardly surprising that the cleaner was confused over the sequence of events since the Kursk sank on 12 August. The authorities kept silent until the next day and the media played down offers of help until President Vladimir Putin accepted them last Wednesday.

Today, Mr Putin looks weak and unfeeling. "He could at least have put on a tie and returned to the Kremlin," said Tatyana, a Kursk railway official, referring to the way the President appeared in a T-shirt before, belatedly, cutting short his Black Sea holiday. Perhaps he lacked the experience to foresee the global reaction; or was caught between the desire of ordinary Russians to save lives and the demands of military hardliners to preserve state secrets.

Whatever, his image is battered. An opinion poll on Ekho Moskvi radio showed that 76 per cent of Russians felt their leader had lost credibility.

Yet Mr Putin may find Russians still have reserves of love for him.

Impressed by what they saw as a combination of male toughness and caring, many women voted for him in March. And in Kursk, it was women rather than men who were prepared to stand by him.

"I still admire him," said Oksana, a civil servant. Galina, who was selling wedding dresses, only wished he had not weakened. "He was quite right to be suspicious of foreigners," she declared.

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