Vladimir Putin is not used to being embarrassed. Having long disposed of independent television, parliamentary opposition, and the inconvenience of competitive elections, the Russian premier does not need to worry about scrutiny. No wonder Mr. Putin’s heated, on-camera exchange with celebrated musician Yuri Shevchuk became an instant sensation.
Mr. Shevchuk is a legendary figure in Russian rock music. When he began organizing underground rock concerts in the Soviet Union, Mr. Putin was laboring as a junior officer in the Leningrad KGB (according to some accounts, in the department targeting political dissent). When Mr. Shevchuk was expelled by the KGB from his hometown of Ufa for nonconformist songs, Mr. Putin was preparing for a tour in East Germany, where he would earn his professional nickname, Stasi. In May 1993, when Mr. Putin was a midranking official in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office, Mr. Shevchuk’s DDT band held an open-air rock concert on the city’s Palace Square for an audience of 120,000 people.