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Updated: March 24, 2013 23:12 IST

Russia cool toward China’s star First Lady

Vladimir Radyuhin
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Peng Liyuan
AP
Peng Liyuan

China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan may have stolen the international limelight from her husband, Chinese President Xi Jinping, on his first overseas visit to Moscow, but her glamorous diplomatic debut was a non-event in Russia.

Russian coverage of Mr. Xi’s wife was limited to a few TV shots of the couple as they descended arm-in-arm from the plane at the Moscow Vnukovo Airport; and of Ms. Peng receiving a bouquet of flowers from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.

Ms. Peng was not present at the official Kremlin welcome ceremony for her husband, nor could she be sighted at a grand opening in the Kremlin of a Year of Chinese Tourism in Russia.

China’s First Lady had her own separate programme in Moscow, which included a tour of the Kremlin and a visit on Saturday to Russia’s famous song-and-dance military ensemble named after its founder Alexander Alexandrov. Multi-million TV audiences in China and other countries would have loved to see Ms. Peng, an acclaimed folk singer, performing, as per announcement, a Russian folk song — partly in Chinese and partly in Russian — with the Alexandrov choir.

The visit to the Alexandrov Ensemble must have had special significance for Ms. Peng, who had once performed Russian songs in Moscow, when the Song and Dance Troupe of the People’s Liberation Army toured Russia in 2005.

Closed to the media

However, the event was closed to the media, just as were Ms. Peng’s other activities in Moscow. The only plausible reason for the blackout was that China’s First Lady had no company from the hosts’ side. Mr. Putin’s wife, Lyudmila, has long stopped accompanying her husband on his trips abroad or attending official engagements at home amid reports that the couple is estranged. The last time she was sighted at a public event was at her husband’s inauguration for a third term last May.

Chinese media apparently found the situation so embarrassing that Xinhua added this line to its report from Moscow: “Putin’s wife Lyudmila accompanied Peng Liyuan on her tour of the Kremlin.” However, there was no official confirmation of this report. In fact, the Kremlin made no mention at all about Ms. Peng’s activities in Moscow and she did not appear on any of about two dozen photos of Mr. Xi’s visit posted on the Kremlin website.

This drew angry comments in the Russian internet.

“How long will Putin keep publicly humiliating our country through the First Lady?” asked rhetorically blogger and writer Oleg Matison. “Where is she? Does family mean anything for Putin?”

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