As Putin launched an annual televised question and answer programme, those rumours went global. Top trending on Twitter during the marathon event wasn’t #putin or it was #botox (in Cyrillic script), the hashtag that critical Russians ascribe to their increasingly unpopular 59-year-old premier.
Putin might find the nickname insulting, but at least it’s better than the one regularly ascribed to President Dmitry Medvedev: #zhalky (#pathetic).
One joke that did the rounds in September after Putin confirmed he would run again for the presidency next year was, “In response to the charge that there are no new faces in Russian politics, Vladimir Putin got plastic surgery.”
The rumours of his Botox use first emerged last October, when he showed up to a meeting in Kiev sporting a massive blue-and-yellow bruise around his eye. Botox, concluded Russia’s blogosphere. Putin’s spokesman was forced to issue denials. “It’s probably just how the light fell. The prime minister is tired.”
Earlier this year, Russia’s liberal New Times magazine revived that speculation in an article titled, “What has happened with Putin’s face?”
It spoke to four plastic surgeons who contended that the Russian leader had probably had cosmetic surgery. It was likely that he had undergone Botox injections in his forehead, an eye-lift on his lower lids, and an injection of firming filler into his cheek bones.
Putin’s face has contorted and smoothed out so much that it’s at times unrecognisable. Talking to teenagers at the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group’s summer camp this year, he was at pains to smile. All wrinkles had disappeared. The chatter in the blogosphere was had Putin out- Berlusconi-ed Berlusconi?
Putin and the Italian premier are close friends. It didn’t seem like much of a stretch to many that they would share plastic-surgery tips and contacts.