'Sound asleep': Internet explodes over Vladimir Putin Olympics moment

·4-min read
Pictured left, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be asleep during the Winter Olympics opening ceremony.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to be asleep when athletes from Ukraine entered the stadium in Beijing for the Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Pic: NBC/Getty

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sparked an internet frenzy after appearing to fall asleep during Ukraine's entrance at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the Beijing Winter Olympics open overnight as his country tried to turn the page on a build-up overshadowed by human rights concerns, Covid and a US-led diplomatic boycott.

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While many leaders of the world's superpowers were absent for the opening ceremony, Russia's President was on hand in a sign of solidarity with China.

Hours before the opening ceremony got underway, Xi and Putin unveiled their alliance, proclaiming a "no limits" friendship between their countries.

Pictured left, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photo before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photograph during their meeting in Beijing before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. Pic: Getty

With tensions on both sides of the Eurasian land mass at their highest for decades, Putin and Xi publicly took each other's sides over a range of grievances, most notably Ukraine, where the West accuses Putin of preparing for war.

In a joint Russian-Chinese statement, Beijing backed Russia's longstanding call for NATO to halt its expansion - Moscow's central demand in a dispute with Western countries that say they believe Putin is preparing for war in Ukraine.

Russia, which has deployed more than 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian frontier, denies planning to invade but says it could take unspecified military action unless its security demands are met.

With tensions between the two countries palpable, the sight of Russia's president falling asleep while athletes from Ukraine entered for the opening ceremony, only made things more awkward.

As athletes from Ukraine marched into Beijing's National Stadium — better known as the Bird's Nest — cameras caught Putin slumping in his chair with his eyes closed, before they suddenly opened as if he'd woken from slumber.

The footage sent social media into a frenzy, with some users accusing the Russian leader of pretending to fall asleep in a "petty" shot at Ukraine.

'Give peace a chance' says IOC President

Amid the climate of political tension across the globe, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach urged the world's leaders to observe an "Olympic truce" and "give peace a chance".

But political leaders from the United States and other Western countries were absent, having cited persecution of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, which Beijing denies.

Rights groups accuse China of torture, forced labour and detention of 1 million people in internment camps in Xinjiang.

China calls them re-education and training facilities, says it is fighting religious extremism, and denies abuses.

The fact China chose skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang - an athlete with Uyghur heritage - as one of the two stars to light the Olympic cauldron, was not lost on observers.

Campaigners say at least one million people from the Muslim Uyghur minority have been incarcerated in "re-education camps" in the Xinjiang region where Yilamujiang hails from.

"By selecting a Uyghur athlete to light the torch, China is trying to address criticism by the West about genocide or persecution of the Uyghurs, and about sinocisation of ethnic minorities," said Ma Haiyun, an expert on Xinjiang and an associate professor at Frostburg State University in Maryland.

"But I don't think this can have much effect on the West, which tends to think most of what China puts up is a show anyway."

with agencies

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