The resident of dirt-poor Mekheti, in Georgia, died on May 31st, aged 97
After scraping flour from her hands with a large, sharp knife, Vera Putina went through the photographs. A very small child with a velvet cravat and smart strap shoes. A boy equipped for winter, in a balaclava and scarf, and for summer, with just a pair of shorts. A pupil in the back row at the Metekhi village school, the brightest in his class. All had the same blond hair, weak chin and sulky bottom lip; all had pale eyes, Russian eyes, like hers. Most also had the wary, sidelong look of an unhappy child. Yes, Vladimir Putin had been unhappy. And it was partly her fault. But there was no mistaking him when, in 1999, he left the shadows to become the president of Russia. What mother would not recognise her own son? Besides, he walked as he always had: like a duck.
The photos were only copies now. Soon after she made her claim, the kgb came to her house, took the originals away and told her not to talk. But this was the most exciting happening in the village for years. Metekhi was a dirt-poor farming place at the foot of the Caucasus in Georgia, on the Kura river. The houses were shoddy brick and patched cement, with rusty fences. The roads, though grandly named after Stalin, were mostly dirt. Vera’s own house was peeling everywhere, though she kept it nice with lace curtains and had a bower of green vines for a garden. She was Russian, not Georgian, but with her hearty laugh and can-do attitude she was popular; and soon everyone, even the boys plucking frogs out of the river, knew that Vera was the mother of “the king of Russia”.