Unsolicited Advice

Vladimir Putin's secret (fake) letter of congratulations to Xi Jinping.

MISHA JAPARIDZE/AFP/Getty Images
MISHA JAPARIDZE/AFP/Getty Images
MISHA JAPARIDZE/AFP/Getty Images

Dear Comrade Xi:

Appended to this letter you will find my official notice of congratulations. It is on the Kremlin letterhead and contains all the ritualistic "hellos" and "how-are-yous." It will be distributed to the press.

But given the circumstances, and the fact that I have some time to kill (the prime minister of some Scandinavian country has been waiting in the adjacent room for only an hour, and is not quite ripe), I thought I would send something a little more personal. The occasion demands it. For one thing, we are peers, you and I, just now traversing the hump of six decades on this treacherous planet, and that is a grim jubilee, so prepare yourself.

Dear Comrade Xi:

Appended to this letter you will find my official notice of congratulations. It is on the Kremlin letterhead and contains all the ritualistic "hellos" and "how-are-yous." It will be distributed to the press.

But given the circumstances, and the fact that I have some time to kill (the prime minister of some Scandinavian country has been waiting in the adjacent room for only an hour, and is not quite ripe), I thought I would send something a little more personal. The occasion demands it. For one thing, we are peers, you and I, just now traversing the hump of six decades on this treacherous planet, and that is a grim jubilee, so prepare yourself.

I don’t know what kind of regiment you’re on — exercise, diet, etc. But I am writing to you now from my residence at Novo-Ogaryovo, where I’ve been holed up like a circus bear ever since my back gave out. There was a crane-flying accident in Siberia. You many have heard about it. Long story. Very cold up there. Murder on the joints.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is I have some advice — friendly, unobtrusive — but advice that needs your attention. The chubby Uzbek from our First Directorate was kind enough to bring me a VHS this morning of your speech to the Party Congress, and I had Dmitry insert it into my video player over lunch. He’s very good with machines. We watched it together. And I’ll be straight with you: It was a little dry. There is comfort in the fact that Chairman Hu is not exactly a razzle-dazzle act to follow, but you have to think in global terms.

If you’ll permit an unsolicited bit of intelligence-sharing, I can tell you that Obama plays basketball with actual basketball players a couple of times a week. I’m serious. I have it from deep sources — alright, it was actually Vanity Fair — that these games of his are not pre-arranged for state television. This is not throwing a yellow-belt judo student over your shoulder and or skin diving for strategically placed ancient urns. This guy is actually running. He’s jumping. He’s being elbowed in the kidneys. This is a problem for both of us.

As has been discussed many times at various diplomatic levels, we have to work as a team, and I’m not just talking about the double-veto dance we’ve been doing at the United Nations. Syria will come and go. But the fate of global security depends on a multipolar world, and to speak candidly, our poles have to exude impeccable physical strength. Your jowls are a problem. That’s the first thing. I have an excellent practitioner in Baden-Baden who would be happy to tuck those in. But you have to be proactive.

It is imperative that you start using the extensive media resources at your disposal. This afternoon, the Uzbek brought me the case file we have on you — nothing to worry about, just newspaper clippings, mostly — and I was unable to find any photographs of you shirtless and/or astride any kind of animal. This is of concern for our cumulative image. Chairman Hu was squeamish on this issue. As he told me privately, he was simply not comfortable going bare-chested or handling firearms. Perhaps this had to do with the Confucian factor. I cannot claim to know about such things.

But going forward, I sincerely hope that you will at least consider some kind of dolphin scenario. They are supremely friendly animals.

Perhaps later we can move you on toward larger mammals. Maybe you’re not ready for a tiger, yet, but for maximum socio-cultural impact on the home front, allow me to suggest a panda — using adequate sedation, of course. I would be willing to put my team of zoologists and ornithologists at your disposal. They have a window of time while my back recovers.

In any case, let’s discuss it candidly at our next meeting. The Scandinavian has begun rapping on the door. So I must go.

Yours with only genuine concern and good wishes,

Vladimir

Simon Shuster is a journalist based in Moscow.

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