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Got an appointment with Vladimir Putin? Better bring a book.

It doesn't matter if you're a business leader, a prime minister, royalty, or even the pope: Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps everyone waiting, sometimes for hours.

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"But only God is above him now. He's person No. 1, and he can afford to be late whenever he wants," he adds.

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Fred Weir has been the Monitor's Moscow correspondent, covering Russia and the former Soviet Union, since 1998. 

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But it's Russians and officials of neighboring post-Soviet countries who've probably had to bear the brunt of Putin's tardiness.

"In October of 2011, a meeting of heads of governments of Commonwealth of Independent States began three hours late because they had to wait on Putin," writes veteran Russian journalist and blogger Andrei Malygin on his LiveJournal blog. "Even during his election campaign [early this year] he made students in Tomsk wait for him for 2 hours; local journalists had to wait for 9 hours [for a scheduled press meeting], during which time security officials forbade them from leaving the place.... In 2008 journalists were urgently summoned to Putin's dacha, and told that he had an urgent announcement to make. Several hours later, in the middle of the night, Putin appeared and told them he'd gathered them together to show them a tiger cub he'd been given as a present."

Sometimes there is no lighthearted way to look at it: "In 2002 families of children who died in an air crash in Germany waited for Putin to appear for the funeral. When he didn't turn up, they buried their children and went off to the wake.... But once they were seated, officials appeared and told them to go to the cemetery to repeat the funeral with Putin present.... Even when they returned to the graveyard they had to wait another 2 hours for him," Mr. Malygin writes. (The story was covered by some Russian media outlets in 2002.)

On another occasion, in April 2001, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church delayed the traditional Easter midnight declaration that "Christ has Risen!" for 10 minutes until Putin showed up.

"Yes, I had to wait for Putin many times, about half an hour on average," recalls Ella Pamfilova, a veteran Russian Duma deputy, government minister, and Kremlin human rights commissioner who retired in 2010. "But honestly, there are worse sins and other things in life that are more important."

Even some of Putin's toughest critics agree.

"They say that punctuality is the courtesy of kings, though Putin is no king," says Boris Kagarlitsky, a long-time left-wing activist and director of the independent Institute for Globalization and Social Movement Studies in Moscow.

"If that were the only problem we have with Putin, I think we might easily excuse it," he adds.


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