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In ‘gift’ to Putin, Robert Kraft takes one for team

If it wouldn’t cause an international incident, Patriots owner Robert Kraft would surely prefer to get his Super Bowl ring back from Vladimir Putin. When the two men met in 2005, Kraft took the diamond-encrusted ring off to show it to the Russian leader. For reasons that remain mysterious, Putin kept the ring. Shortly afterward, Kraft issued a polite statement describing the item as a gift symbolizing his respect for Putin and the Russian people.

But according to The New York Post, Kraft’s comments at a gala dinner Thursday made it clear he didn’t mean to give away the ring. Soon after his meeting with Putin, Kraft recounted, then-President Bush’s White House called him to say that “it would really be in the best interest if you meant to give the ring as a present.” Kraft opted then to play along. But few of us have had the experience of accidentally donating a $25,000 ring to the president of Russia, and it would be hard to leave such a story untold forever.

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For the sake of international harmony, it’s best to see the episode as a high-level misunderstanding in which Putin sincerely believed Kraft was offering him the ring. Gift-giving customs vary from culture to culture, and heads of state are often presented with gifts. Eight years later, some diplomatic sensitivity remains: On Sunday, Putin’s spokesman described Kraft’s comments in the Post as “weird.”

In a subsequent statement Sunday, the Patriots described Kraft’s account as a “humorous, anecdotal story that Robert re-tells for laughs,” adding that the team owner “loves that his ring is at the Kremlin.” None of which actually contradicts what Kraft said at the gala. Still, it’s tactful of Kraft to reiterate the official story. Now the Kremlin should discreetly return his ring, gift or not.

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